Paper has always been made from trees. The trees are cut, shipped to a processing plant, and made into paper. Unfortunately, the high demand for paper means that roughly 80,000 to 160,000 trees are cut down each day just for paper. The numbers add up to around 15 billion a year, but the world only replants five billion. This is not sustainable. The world only has so many trees, and all of them are an important part of the environment they live in. The process of an area transforming from a forest to an area with little vegetation is called deforestation, which is not good for the environment. Since trees produce oxygen and absorb greenhouse gases (the gases that are helping to cause climate change), destruction of trees encourages global warming. Destruction of trees also causes destruction of habitats, leading to more and more species of animal going extinct. The rate at which trees are being used is not sustainable, but there may be a solution. Hemp.
What is hemp?
It is a species of the cannabis plant. It is fast growing and grows in a variety of climates. It can be grown very densely, meaning that the yield can be very high per acre. One acre of hemp also can produce more oxygen than twenty-five acres of forest. Hemp is also better to make paper with. In twenty years, an acre of hemp can produce as much paper as four to ten acres of trees. While trees take twenty to eighty years to mature, hemp only takes four months before it can be harvested for paper. In addition, hemp also has a higher percentage of cellulose (the main ingredient in paper) than wood. Using hemp instead of trees for paper could slow the cut down of trees by four billion a year. It could also slow global warming and help produce more oxygen, keeping ecosystems healthy and slowing climate change.
So why don’t we?
Cannabis is illegal in most countries. There are two main species in this family: hemp and marijuana. Both are illegal in some way in most of the world because of marijuana. But what’s the difference? Marijuana and hemp contain substances called cannabinoids, like cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol (CBD and THC). THC is responsible for creating a “high” when consumed. Industrial hemp has less than 1% THC in it, while marijuana can have up to 30%. Hemp also contains high amounts of CBD (a cannabinoid that has therapeutic effects on consumers and does not create a high) instead of THC, and the evidence for it being illegal is flimsy at best. Producing hemp is limited in most parts of the world because countries have banned both hemp and marijuana, restricting the production of hemp into paper.
Even if this boundary is overcome, there are still more obstacles to face. Most paper mills do not have the equipment for the processing of hemp, and since it is produced at such a small scale, hemp paper is very expensive to produce. The more paper mills convert to using hemp, the easier it will be to produce more hemp, more paper, and more sustainability for future generations.