The Ultimate Guide to Plastics of the Future Part 7 – The Path for Hemp Additives
As we mentioned in the previous section, bio-based additives are becoming increasingly popular as plastics additives, and one of the most promising is industrial hemp. Let’s look at why in detail.
Industry-wide, people are starting to see successful applications for hemp-filled plastics. What was once revolutionary (any natural fiber-filled resin) is now starting to become normalized in manufacturing R&D labs.
In Europe, hemp and flax-filled thermoplastics have been standardized in automotive supply chains over the past decade or two. Heartland’s team just now established America’s first reliable industrial hemp supply chain. Hemp is the raw material supply chain that will unlock the next generation of high-performance plastics with a lower carbon footprint.
Hemp is a biomaterial that is carbon-negative. That means every one pound of hemp sequesters more than one pound of carbon dioxide.
If it is engineered correctly, industrial hemp is a high-performance carbon-negative plastic additive. It has great strength, flexibility and light weight characteristics that differentiate it from other biomaterials.
Before we dive into all the advantages of hemp, let’s first let’s look at what additives do specifically and how/why they are used.
A Deeper Dive into Additives
Additives are substances that are blended with the plastics to modify their properties. Additives can be categorized into two groups – reactive additives and non-reactive additives.
As the name suggests, reactive additives react with other chemicals during processing of plastics or afterwards to produce desired properties of polymers.
Non-reactive additives have no chemical reactions with other compounds and have a limited effect on physical/mechanical properties of plastics.
Additives can give plastic dozens of different types of performance characteristics, but they can also make life more difficult. Certain additives have a really high carbon footprint, they’re hard to decompose, and they’re bad for the human body.
The most common additives are:
– Plasticizers: they increase the flexibility of the plastic and make it easier to mold into different shapes. They also reduce the brittleness of plastics and can improve its durability. These materials are also known to be endocrine disruptors to humans.
– Fillers: they affect the volume and weight of plastics and enhance its strength or reduce its cost (which are important variables for all resins).
– Pigments: they give color to plastics, which is vital for many products such as toys, pens, etc., but there are cases where dyes could be used instead because dyes can be more economical than pigments.
– Antioxidants: they protect plastics from degrading over time due to light or heat exposure by making them less susceptible to UV rays and high temperatures. By doing so they extend a product’s life.
These are just some of the additives that are necessary to make the plastic products we use every day – water bottles, auto interiors, building products, etc. Without any performance modifiers, the raw polymer resins have very little utility.
Are We Safe from the Dangers of Traditional Additives?
Plastic has become ubiquitous in our modern society. Although plastic makes our lives easier, resins are making life more difficult for the environment (and all its inhabitants).
Plastics are typically very difficult (and time consuming) to break down. As we’ve touched on earlier, plastic pollution is currently one of the biggest environmental problems because it takes hundreds (or even thousands) of years to decompose. This means that consumption and pollution are going to scale until our oceans and landfills can’t take anymore.
The debate over whether or not it is safe to use plastic products has been going on for a long time. But, before we take sides, let’s look at the evidence.
Understanding the toxic effects of plastic is a difficult subject to cover. It contains a wide range of chemical and physical hazards that can endanger humans, animals, and plants. In order to prevent further damage from plastic manufacturing, we must become more aware of these risks and take measures to lessen the impact that plastics and their additives have on the environment.
Plastic is made of polymers, which are created by linking three or more molecules together. The danger of these polymers comes from the “monomers” which are used to make them.
These monomers can be toxic, enter our food chain, and disrupt our cells’ DNA if we ingest them. The most commonly used monomer in plastics is BPA (Bisphenol-A).
BPA has been linked with health problems such as cancer and diabetes due to its estrogen-like properties that disrupt hormone production in humans and animals that ingest it. We’ve all seen “Anti-BPA” language on plastic products at some point.
The toxicity of plastics has been well documented for decades, so it is now more critical than ever before to change the way we manufacture and formulate them.
In the 1950s and 60s, we as a society didn’t realize how dangerous plastics could be. Then, in the 1970s, much more attention was being paid to pollution and the overall state of our environment. This put the plastics industry under fire.
Our society learned how the plastic production process was largely responsible for releasing large amounts of toxins. People learned that when plastics were burned in an incinerator, they released these substances such as dioxins and furans into the atmosphere. There were also other dangers associated with plastic manufacturing processes that came into focus such as plastic waste and water pollution.
Over decades, it became more and more important for us to understand what kind of health hazards we were exposing the planet to.
Over the past few decades, the public has learned about the different types of plastic additives, and the level of risk they pose to people and our planet.
One example of an additive that has been proven to be unsafe for human contact is talc. Talc has been on the wrong side of multi-billion dollar lawsuits that prove multiple different types of cancer can be created from human contact.
Some other dangerous additives are titanium dioxide, lead chromate, and selenium dioxide. Sometimes, plastic additives can be even more dangerous than the raw polymers themselves.
So, What Can We Do To Reduce Our Harmful Impact on the Environment?
As the effects of our consumption are getting more intense, we’re beginning to see the long-term effects of our polluting ways. There are a few things that we can do to reduce our harmful impact on the environment such as:
– Recycling Plastics: recycling reduces the need for new, virgin plastics. It also lowers the amount of plastic waste.
– Buying eco-friendly products: most companies nowadays offer an eco-friendly packaging option that contains less plastic material.
– Reducing the amount of trash we produce. By reusing plastic containers and cutting our dependence on single-use plastics, we greatly reduce the amount of waste in our landfills and ultimately in our oceans.
These are simple, great ways we can get involved starting today on reducing our carbon footprints. But, in order to solve the problem long-term, we need our industries to begin focusing on new, more sustainable methods of manufacturing with plastics.
One way to do that, is to put a sharper focus on the additives we use, and blend in new bio-based materials into the plastics we’re already manufacturing with. The most promising of those new biomaterials is hemp because it’s a high-performance carbon-negative raw material. ‘If it’s engineered properly, it can be used as an additive for a lower carbon footprint plastic.
What Has Hemp Been Used for Historically?
Hemp is a plant that has often been used for the production of various products such as paper, textiles, clothing and food. It has a 10,000 year history of being a really strong natural fiber in many cultures around the world.
Hemp has been grown for millennia in China and other parts of the world where it was originally used for clothing, baskets and of course rope.
In the United States, hemp was grown at Mount Vernon from 1794 to 1822 by George Washington. Our founding father used it for rope, as thread for sewing sacks, and for repairing the seine nets used at his fisheries.
The production of hemp was industrialized in countries such as Canada and Russia in late 1800s-early 1900s before being outlawed at a worldwide level due to its association with marijuana.
However, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the growing and processing of industrial hemp. This has opened up the gateway for industrial hemp’s application as a versatile raw material across America’s supply chains.
The Hemp Industry Today
The hemp industry is growing rapidly because the plant is very similar to standard crops like corn and soy that are already in rotation today. This is good because there is no need for specialized growing processes, complicated irrigation methods, or for expensive new farming equipment. Hemp can be grown virtually anywhere our standard crops are grown.
Hemp is a fast-growing, water-wise crop that requires minimal use of pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides. Hemp can be used as a clean and renewable energy source. Hemp requires less resources (time, money, and energy) to produce than any other crop in America’s heartland today.
Plastics with natural fiber additives like hemp also have a much smaller carbon footprint (up to 44% smaller) than their mineral-filled counterparts.
Industrial hemp (the non-psychoactive cannabis plant) is used in a variety of products, from textiles and paper to biodegradable plastics and construction materials. The hemp used as an additive in the plastic manufacturing process is a better alternative to traditional mined and synthetic plastic additives. Hemp-filled resins produce a stronger, lighter, cheaper, and more sustainable plastic product. With a growing number of biomaterials to choose from, we can start designing products with sustainable materials in mind.
Hemp Additives and the Plastic Manufacturing Revolution
We have always known that hemp has been used as a high-performance natural fiber. But, what we didn’t know was how to engineer that hemp fiber to make it perform as an additive in plastic.
The recent ability to process hemp into engineered plastic additives (with high degrees of consistency) is the answer for the ever-growing need for sustainable alternatives to traditional materials.
New methods of using hemp-based plastic additives are making progress due the fact that we can now better control the quality of hemp materials (something that was not possible just two years ago).
Hemp can now be processed into various forms that are suitable for a wide range of plastic applications. It can be used to add strength, volume, and flexibility while reducing cost, weight, and carbon footprint.
Typically, we think of bio-based products as being somewhat inferior to products that use synthetic or mined materials. The great thing about hemp-based plastic additives is that they make plastics stronger, lighter and cheaper than the traditional additives.
Did we also mention that hemp is carbon-negative? Not only does it have physical superiority over traditional materials, but, since it’s a plant, it sequesters carbon too. It’s a win-win-win!
Companies like Heartland are pioneering the American industrial hemp supply chain in a way that upgrades US and global manufacturing.
The time has come for us to collectively make a change in the way we function and embrace sustainable materials. As a society, we need to hold manufacturers to the standards that they’ve publicly committed to.
We all need to do our part in working towards reducing our carbon footprint. We can both reverse the damage already done to our environment, and leave a better planet to our future generations.
All we need is a reliable supply chain of sustainable materials to support global consumption.
Join us as we make a world out of hemp.