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What is hemp paper?

Hemp paper is a valuable alternative to conventional paper made from trees, and could become a promising source for much of the world’s paper demand. Although hemp was used to produce paper thousands of years ago and has a wide range of benefits in comparison to wood pulp, we can’t crop hemp at a large […]

Hemp paper is a valuable alternative to conventional paper made from trees, and could become a promising source for much of the world’s paper demand. Although hemp was used to produce paper thousands of years ago and has a wide range of benefits in comparison to wood pulp, we can’t crop hemp at a large scale so far due to its legal status. Like other hemp-based materials, we currently can’t meet the massive demand for paper, plastic and so on with hemp. 

In this article, we will provide some basic information about hemp paper and the advantages of using hemp to make paper.

What is hemp paper?

Hemp paper is made from hemp’s long blast fiber or short blast fiber. Fiber paper is thin, tough, brittle, rough while pulp paper is easier to make softer, thicker and more preferable than wood paper for most daily purposes. The chemical composition of hemp paper is similar to that of wood, however the quality of paper is better, making hemp a good choice as a raw material for the paper-manufacturing industry.

Brief history of hemp paper

200 years before the nominal invention of the paper-making method by Cai Lun, ancient chinese made coarse paper from hemp, dating back to the early western Han dynasty. The Chinese used a range of cheap stuff and materials , including recycled hemp clothing, rag, fishing nets to produce paper. By the sixth century AD, this paper-producing technique spread to Korea and Japan where cannabis had been used previously for thousands of years

In the 13th century, Europeans started to use hemp paper that originated from the Middle East. The hemp paper also reached Germany in the 14th century for the first time. Notably, the first copies of the Bible were made from hemp paper. However, there were new methods to produce paper from wood pulp, which were cheaper than hemp in the 19th century, so that hemp paper wasn’t popular since then.

In 1916,  U.S.Department of Agriculture scientists Lyster Hoxie Dewey and  Jason L.Merrill invented paper made from hemp pulp and concluded that paper made from hemp was more beneficial than those used wood pulp. It is important that the chemical composition of hemp pulp is similar to wood pulp, making hemp a good choice as an alternative material to manufacture paper. Scientists found that dried hemp contains up to 57% cellulose (the basic ingredient in paper) in comparison with just 40-50% cellulose in wood. Another advantage of hemp is the lower lignin content, which needs to be removed in the paper-manufacturing process. Hemp contains from 5 to 24% lignin, while wood has from 20 to 35% lignin. Therefore wood requires more use of chemicals to remove lignin.

Why wood pulp won?

Back when president Hoover was in power in the 1930s, the owner of a big newspaper company in the Americas, W. Hearst, invested in thousands of acres of timber to provide enough pulp for the paper-manufacturing industry. As a result, he tried to remove hemp from the paper industry since hemp was a competition in the field he wanted to dominate.

To achieve his purpose, he formed an alliance with a well-known petro-chemical company that provided chemicals and techniques to convert wood fiber into paper. In addition, he started a power newspaper campaign preventing Americans from supporting the hemp industry after realizing hemp material posed a threat to his investment. The media campaign described hemp as an extremely dangerous drug, raising the fear of the public and bringing his agenda into the news in a way that appeals to Americans.

He succeeded in creating a domino effect and powerful driving forces behind the illegalization of the growth of hemp in the US. The Dupont company which participated in the alliance with W. Hearst also pressured the US congress to pass a law that imposed sanctions on those who sell, acquire or own hemp. Consequently, Hemp paper was completely defeated by wood pulp.

Hemp pulp and wood pulp

Compared to its wood pulp competition, paper made from hemp has a wide range of advantages and some people also considered that the world would have been in a vastly different state if the hemp paper industry had continued to develop as it was. Here’s why:

Hemp fiber is quite durable and strong, so it doesn’t become yellow with age and resist decomposition.

Hemp paper can be recycled up to 8 times, as compared to just 3 times of paper made from wood-pulp.

In terms of crop yield, it takes about 4 months for hemp stalks to reach maturity, while some kinds of trees need from 20 to 80 years to become mature. Not only does it grow at a faster rate, hemp contains more cellulose, which is the main ingredient of paper, than wood. If hemp was planted, we can harvest materials to produce paper at a faster rate.

Because of being low in lignin, hemp doesn’t require as many chemicals or bleaching as wood pulp. Instead of using wood, making paper from hemp helps manufacturers significantly decrease the number of toxins used in the paper-producing process.

The future of hemp paper

Paper waste and deforestation are massive issues, and hemp can be a part of the solution. However, it takes years to develop the infrastructure for the hemp paper industry as well as break the legal barriers for using hemp as a material to produce paper. 

With full legalization of hemp, we are hoping to see more hemp grown for pulp paper. The future of hemp paper is very promising and someday, we can see many hemp-based products, like books made from hemp for example.

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November 2022

Alice Seeds Team,