Hemp as Food, Paper, and Cloth

The Environmental and Economic Potential of Hemp

Hemp seeds are a complete protein and an excellent source of essential fatty acids. It is also one of the easiest vegetable oils for humans to digest.

However, Australia is currently the only developed country that bans the consumption of hemp based food. This is despite the fact that hemp foods contain no psychoactive properties, and hemp is currently used in food products in Europe, Canada and the United States.

For thousands of years it has been used to make dozens of commercial products worldwide. In 8000 BC in China the earliest known cloth fabric was woven from hemp.

In 2700 BC hemp was used for fibre, oil and as a medicine. And in 200 BC the product was used to make the world’s first paper.

Today, hemp can be used to create almost anything – food, fibre, fuel, fabrics, furniture, medicine, building materials, paper and bio-plastics – with little environmental impact. This is because hemp pulp has one of the highest cellulose content, longest fibre structures and best fibre yields of any plant, including trees.

It is one of the fastest growing and highly resilient biomasses known. It allows for large yields without the need for toxic pesticides and herbicides. It also absorbs large quantities of CO2 as it grows.

Despite these benefits, Australia’s production of hemp is currently limited. In 2013, Australia grew 444,000 hectares of water-hungry genetically modified cotton. If that had been hemp, each hectare would have yielded up to 5 times as much fibre, saving over 2 million mega litres of water and millions of litres of pesticides and herbicides from our environment.

Food regulators in Australia are currently considering allowing human consumption of hemp seeds. The decision will be made in April 2017.

In the meantime, buying alternative hemp products where possible is one great way to reduce your detrimental impact on the environment. They can be found in a number of herbariums and eco-friendly stores across the Inner West of Sydney.

By Lucia Moon