How Hemp Production Benefits the Environment
Written by Cathy Rozyczko
Edited by Jason Brett on
September 30, 2021
Every plant on the planet has a purpose. Every piece of the ecosystem serves a purpose, and some lucky plants serve several purposes. Examples include peppermint that has natural menthol. Aloe contains a muscle relaxer and pain reliever that makes it perfect to treat burns. And cotton fibers spin easily into threads.
But rarely do we find a plant that has such a diverse set of benefits as cannabis sativa, the humble hemp plant.
Hemp can be spun into a strong and recyclable fiber. Its seeds are edible and cold-pressed seed oil hydrates the skin without causing blemishes. The extracted oil from the stems, leaves, and flowers also contains a remarkable number of health benefits for humans and other mammals. Full-spectrum CBD oil (natural unprocessed oil from hemp plants) has been found through scientific studies to reduce inflammation, stress, muscle tension, and perception of pain.
Beyond these benefits, growing hemp plants will also enrich the soil they are grown in. Fields will be in better shape with fewer toxins and greater growing capacity for other crops after growing a few harvests of hemp plants.
But we're not just talking about general benefits. Let's dive into the real detail of how growing hemp benefits the environment at-large.
Bioremediation with Hemp Plants
Bioremediation Pulls Toxins Out of the Ground
What is bioremediation, you ask? From two words “bio” as in natural and “remediation” which means to fix or reverse harm. Agricultural scientists have been searching for crops that reverse environmental damage done to fields. Heavy metal poisoning comes from industrial pollution in the air and water runoff and toxifies soil. Bioremediation seeks plants that can safely pull the toxins out of the soil and provide enrichment without damaging the plants themselves – thus also growing a useful crop in the fields being repaired.
Experiment results have found that hemp is both sturdy in the face of metal-toxified soil and excellent at removing those metal toxins when it grows.
Hemp Absorbs Heavy Metal Pollution from Soil
Plants that are good for bioremediation pull toxins out of the soul through their root systems. Hemp plants can have roots up to nine feet down, often longer than the plant is tall. The expansive hemp root system pulls water and nutrients out of the soil, and with that water comes any heavy metal particles that may also be in the soil. The hemp plant then stores that metal in its stems and leaves, so that when the harvest is removed, so too are the toxins permanently removed from the soil.
Hemp can save farmers and local agricultural specialists a great deal of trouble by purifying metal-polluted soil without a complex sifting or cleaning process. That’s because hemp naturally pulls heavy metals. In Germany, hemp was shown to pull cadmium and nickel from fields toxified by a sewage flood. In Italy, hemp was planted to clean up after a massive local steel plant. Finally, a recent study in Colorado confirmed that hemp is extremely resilient to selenium toxicity and grew healthily in spite of a contaminated field.
Hemp Was Used to Clean Up Chernobyl
One of the most historic uses of hemp as a bioremediation crop was to clean up the 100,000 square kilometers of irradiated land surrounding Chernobyl after the radioactive explosion. Scientists in the 90s declared hemp to be among the most effective and promising bioremediation crops available for the task.
Hemp Used for Bioremediation Is Still Useful
The really interesting thing about hemp is that when used for bioremediation – it is reliably approved for the production of hemp fibers after testing. Hemp does not create such an internal concentration of metals extracted to affect the processed products of the hemp plants. This makes hemp extremely valuable for farmers with land that needs to be detoxified, because the year's crops in those fields can still be sold.
Hemp is Extremely Sustainable to Grow
In addition to its awesome powers of bioremediation, hemp also has a few other handy benefits to the environment. For farmers, hemp is good for the soil beyond pulling toxins out and even beyond a salable crop for hemp fibers, edible seeds, and CBD oil. Growing hemp is extremely sustainable, and hemp is also just plain good for the field and surrounding plants and animals. It has several physical flora qualities that benefit the fields where hemp is grown, so that it is better to grow again in the future instead of diminished.
Hemp's Long Roots Hold the Soil Together
Topsoil is lost when it becomes dry, dusty, and blows away. Holding the land together is a complex system of moisture, soil consistency, and roots holding the soil together. Hemp roots can grow up to nine feet long and create a sturdy net in the soil. They hold a field together and help to keep the moisture and nutrients evenly distributed.
Growing Hemp Doesn't Need Pesticides
Another great benefit of hemp's remarkable sturdiness as a plant is that it doesn't need pesticides. Hemp is not particularly edible to insects and is not damaged by the common crawling occupants of a farmer's field. This means that pesticides don't need to be sprayed onto the crops, which means they won't be released into the air or seep into the runoff or groundwater. Fewer pesticides means fewer toxins for the hemp, the soil, and the entire nearby ecosystem.
Hemp Allows for Easy Crop Rotation
Hemp is also an annual plant with a four-month growing cycle. This makes hemp incredibly cycle-friendly. Fields need to be changed out what they grow or be allowed to rest in a cycle to ensure that the soil remains enriched in a balanced way. By adding hemp to the rotation, farmers can actually easily integrate this health-booster to tired fields as part of their already steady crop cycling schedule.
Harvested Hemp Plants Can Enrich the Soil
Every harvest leaves a certain amount of crop debris still in the soil and on the ground. For some crops, this debris is empty chaff. Hemp is a different story. The roots, stems, and leaf parts left behind in a field when a hemp crop is harvested are full of nutrients. They enrich the soil as they decay, just like fallen trees enrich the forest when they rot away into soil below.
Hemp Products Benefit the Environment
Last but not least are the ways that hemp products are used to make a positive impact on the environment. While hemp plants are miraculous enough improving the soil and producing CBD, we can also use hemp fibers in a number of cool environment-saving industries.
Hemp Is an Efficient Biofuel
To start, hemp is the number one crop for producing biomass per acre. Biomass is plant weight that can be burned for fuel like gasoline. You may have already heard of using corn as a biofuel, but we need corn for eating – among other things. Biofuel can be made to burn cleaner than gasoline and can save all that old dinosaur-bone based crude oil for rocket fuel to get into space.
Hemp Paper Can Be Recycled 7 Times
Hemp is also a great fiber for paper production. Paper from trees is controversial as it can require clear-cutting and not all paper producers use sustainable replanting practices. Hemp, on the other hand, is both quick-growing and extremely recyclable. Because hemp fibers are so sturdy, they can be recycled up to 7 times and still make integrous paper (eventually soft paper) products. At the beginning of the cycle, it can be stationary, later recycling can be packing material. At the end of this cycle, it can be turned into recycled kitty litter.
Sturdy Non-Disposable Clothing and Cloth Products
And, of course, there's the fact that hemp makes very sturdy, soft, and breathable clothing. Cotton clothing has been honed over the years to be somewhat disposable, like t-shirts that come apart. Hemp is a more lasting fabric and is less likely to be spun that thin. This makes hemp a great solution for sustainable clothing that doesn't have to be replaced for decades – whether as a family hand-me-down or a lasting favorite.
How has hemp production benefited the environment, and how can it serve even more benefit with the expansion of the hemp fiber and CBD industries? We hope to see the points explored today as only the beginning. Soon there will be more scientific results on bioremediation and even better sustainable hemp products.
+ 8 sources
Leonard, Andrew. “Can Hemp Clean up the Earth?” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018
Bioremediation - an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics
Husain, Rabab et al. “Enhanced tolerance of industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) plants on abandoned mine land soil leads to overexpression of cannabinoids.” PloS one vol. 14,8 e0221570. 29 Aug. 2019, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0221570
Amaducci, Stefano, et al. “Characterisation of Hemp (Cannabis Sativa L.) Roots under Different Growing Conditions.” AGRIS, Dordrecht : Springer Netherlands, 1 Jan. 1970
Stonehouse, Gavin C et al. “Selenium Metabolism in Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.)-Potential for Phytoremediation and Biofortification.” Environmental science & technology vol. 54,7 (2020): 4221-4230. doi:10.1021/acs.est.9b07747
Linger, P., et al. “Industrial Hemp (Cannabis Sativa l.) Growing on Heavy Metal Contaminated Soil: Fibre Quality and Phytoremediation Potential.” Industrial Crops and Products, Elsevier, 20 Jan. 2002
National Hemp Association, 3 Mar. 2019
Environmental Benefits of Hemp
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