Monday, November 22, 2004

Plastics : Replacing Oil - From Opium to Hemp

It's been said that oil is much too valuable to burn. Petroleum is used to produce many of the things that form part of modern living. One particularly ubiquitous item is plastic. Look around you - how many items can see that are made from plastic or contain plastic?

I vividly remember a picture in the National Geographic issue on "The End of Cheap Oil" where a "typical" family placed everything in the house made from plastic (or other petroleum products such as nylon) in front of their house. It basically looked as if almost the entire contents of their house were on the front lawn.

We know in the coming decades or even years that the supply of cheap oil is going to run out. Yet as individuals, communities and as a global society we seem to be doing little to prepare. Plastic is an everyday part of modern living. Yet I've seen almost no discussion in the mass media of alternative materials or non-petroleum renewable ways of producing plastic. In prior internet searches I have found that plastic can be produced from hemp. Hemp also known as cannabis is well known as a recreational drug. However its demonisation in some parts of the world have lead to its other uses being forgotten. It can also be used to make fabric and paper as well as to produce plastic. It also seems to be little known that there are varieties of hemp where the narcotic properties are minimised or practically eliminated. And yet it remains illegal to grow in many countries.

This article from the BBC discusses how rather than growing opium (which is then turned into heroin for the world's illicit drug trade) Afghani farmers should be encouraged both with protection from the warlords and financial aid to grow hemp instead.

The article points out that hemp can produce quantities of wood equivalent to four times that of trees over a similar period of time. This biomass can be used in the production of clean, renewable energy, biodegradable plastics and building composites.

Hemp is currently being grown for these purposes in 36 countries around the world, including Canada and some European Union countries.

BBC News article on Afghan Opium Trade and the Hemp Alternative

100% Corn-Based Packaging Now In Use


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like there are also other alternatives:

Biodegradable Starch-based Polymers

"Thermoplastic starch biodegradable plastics (TPS) have a starch (amylose) content greater than 70% and are based on gelatinised vegetable starch, and with the use of specific plasticising solvents, can produce thermoplastic materials with good performance properties and inherent biodegradability. Starch is typically plasticised, destructured, and/or blended with other materials to form useful mechanical properties. Importantly, such TPS compounds can be processed on existing plastics fabrication equipment."


3:49 am, November 27, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't done a whole lot of homework in this area. But the more I think of it, and the more heating oil goes up. How long is it going to take the government to wake up??
We cut thousands of acres of trees each year for firewood, paper, etc. Most of these things could be replaced with hemp.... Not pot, HEMP!
On the market there are pellet stoves, that burn pellets, instead of logs. How hard would it be to process those pellets from hemp??
Paper.... Are our kids going be less successful in school if they use paper made from hemp for their home work??

6:13 pm, May 07, 2006  

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