The pulp and paper industry is the fifth largest consumer of energy, accounting for 4 percent of all the world’s energy uses more water to produce a ton of product than any other industry. Meanwhile with a limited number of trees available, the demand for paper over the next 20 years is supposed to at least double due to the economic emergence of third world countries, and the ever-expanding worldwide population. There is no way to meet this demand without clear-cutting every tree in the entire world. Paper is big business, and 93% of the world’s paper is made of wood.
One acre of hemp can produce as much paper as 4 to 10 acres of trees over a 20-year cycle, but hemp stalks only take four months to mature, whereas trees take 20 to 80 years. This information was known in 1916, according to a USDA report. Hemp paper can also be recycled more often, though this fact is not of much value, since hemp is a reusable resource.
In 100 B.C., the Chinese invented hemp paper and until 1883, 75% to 90% of all paper in the world was made from hemp.
There are two main reasons why hemp was used for so long to make paper:
First, hemp is a very versatile plant and can be used in all sorts of products, ranging from rope to shampoo to paper to biodiesel fuel and construction materials. Second, until then, they couldn’t make paper out of wood like we do now.
Before wood was used for paper, Bibles, maps, paper money, certificates and even newspapers were all written on hemp paper. The Gutenberg Bible, Thomas Paine’s pamphlets, and the novels of Mark Twain were all printed on hemp paper. Both the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were drafted on hemp, and then copied onto parchment.
Both the long bast fiber and the short bast fiber (hurd or pulp) can be used to make paper. Fiber paper is thin, tough, brittle, and rough. Pulp paper is not as strong, but is easier to make, softer, thicker, and preferable for most everyday purposes. Non-wood fibers, such as hemp, are rapidly renewable resources that can also help contribute to more environmentally-sound fiber blends.
The higher the percentage of cellulose in a plant, the better, because fewer chemicals need to be used, and less work needs to be done before the paper can be made. Almost any plant in nature with a strong stalk is better suited to make paper than trees, especially hemp because it can be 85% cellulose.
Hemp makes paper stronger and which lasts centuries longer than wood paper, which could be very valuable for people who want to keep records aside from on computers. Hemp paper does not yellow, crack, or otherwise deteriorate like tree paper does now. The acids which are needed for wood paper eventually eat away at the pulp and cause it to turn yellow and fall apart. Because of this publishers, libraries, and archives have to order specially processed acid free paper, but they could just buy hemp paper which already meets their quality standards.
Hemp paper also does not require any bleaching, and so does not poison the water with dioxins or chlorine like tree paper mills do. The chemicals involved in making hemp paper are much less toxic, in fact, both paper made from hemp hurd, and from the long bast fiber can be made without any chemicals at all, but it takes longer to separate the fiber from the lignin. Making paper from hemp could also eliminate erosion due to logging, reduces topsoil loss, and water pollution caused by soil runoff.
Flax and hemp yield longer fibers and can assist in creating high quality paper when added to shorter fiber resources such as recycled office paper (post-consumer waste).
Since 1937, when hemp was effectively outlawed, 70% of American natural forests have been destroyed. Today, only 4% of America’s old-growth forest remains standing. Hemp growing could completely negate the necessity to use wood at all because anything made from wood can be made from hemp.
The plant kenaf is better suited than hemp for making some qualities of paper, but hemp has one huge advantage, hemp generates an immense amount of plant matter in a four month growing season. Plants like Kenaf just cannot produce enough plant material to make enough paper for what the world demand is and will soon become, making hemp organic paper a better choice. Even if hemp farming were only geared toward paper making, it alone would still be a giant move to improve the planet.
Germany’s largest paper company converted two mills to hemp-based paper production, even though large mills require 40-60% of the equipment to be retooled to switch to hemp based paper. Hemp paper is the one area of the possible hemp market that would require a lot of equipment change, but the need exists to change the equipment, or we will not be left with any more trees for shade, scenery, and good old-fashioned oxygen. The construction costs to convert our paper mills from tree-based paper to hemp is around $100-$300 million, which would at the same time open doors for new jobs and opportunities to build new equipment.
The reason for these equipment changes lies in the fact that the hemp fiber is so strong. The chains of cellulose molecules are arranged as a rigid structure glued together by the lignin, which must be separated before the fiber can be arranged into paper.
Hemp currently makes up around .05% of the world annual pulp production volume at around 120,000 tons/year because importation costs result in prices which are 2-3 times that of tree paper.