Commercialization of Hemp-based BioplasticsTrue commercialization of hemp-based plastics could be just around the corner in North America. Hemp is experiencing a revolution, its popularity as a raw material has exploded in recent years thanks to deregulation of hemp in the United States and the growing acceptance of the cannabis sativa plant family as a whole.
An eco-friendly focused packaging company out of Alaska seems set to take the world by storm in 2018 with the launch of its hemp-based plastics and packaging production facility. According to Kevin Tubbs, president of the Alaskan based Best Practices Packaging (BPP), “We’re commercializing hemp bioplastic for the first time in North American history. We can produce virtually whatever the market demands,” and the demand for plastics has reached extraordinary levels in North America, to say the least.
Have We Reached Peak Plastic?
If there was ever a time for the introduction of large-scale, bio-friendly plastics manufacturing, generated from renewable resources like hemp, it’s now. As of 2015, the world had produced 6300 million metric tons of plastics, of which only nine percent had ever reached a recycling plant. Nearly 80 percent of these plastics simply ended up in the oceans or the natural environment. Experts predict that by 2050 if the status quo of plastic consumption remains unchanged, the natural environment will carry upwards of 12,000 million metric tons of the stuff.
As consumers slowly wake up to the crisis of plastics in our environment, there has been a slow rise in plastics recycling over the years, but not by much. The rate of recycling growth grew on average by 0.7 percent per year between 1990 and 2014. This less than one percent yearly increase in plastic recycling did little to the roughly 105 million metric tons of new primary plastics pumped out in 2015 alone.
The numbers, as presented by Geyer, Jambeck et al., in Science Advances paint a bleak picture. Despite the obvious plastic based environmental catastrophe headed our way, the world just can’t seem to quit producing new plastics. It's an addiction. Even if all plastics on the market today miraculously made it into our recycling bins tomorrow, recycling is really only a delay of the inevitable. Eventually, all plastics reach the end of their useful lifespan and require some sort of disposal.
Enter Hemp Based Plastics
Because of societies pesky plastics addiction, innovations in biodegradable, renewable materials are a hot topic. Part of the issue with eco-friendly alternatives to petrochemical plastics is the price difference. Until very recently, renewable plastics just couldn’t keep up with the bargain basement prices of the oil industry. Yet, BPP might have found a formula that works. Through a unique and well-curated partnership spanning across North America, Tubbs of BPP believes he may have landed on a reliable, competitive solution to the pricy bioplastics currently in the North American market.
Best Practices Packaging has teamed up with the largest producers of nutritional hemp products in North America and the largest flexible packaging company in the USA to finally commercialize the hemp packaging and plastics industry on the continent. Tubbs saw a need to reuse leftover hemp waste from the nutritional hemp side of the business, which was normally sold as cattle feed, and recycle it into a useable packaging for the nutritional products themselves. Essentially he envisioned using leftover hemp from the nutritional hemp business into packaging for the nutritional hemp business? A revolutionary idea.
According to Tubbs, the full-scale commercialization of the idea happened almost by accident, “Initially, my goal was simply to make enough hemp plastic so that we could wrap all of our nutritional products in ultra-green hemp containers. The response to this idea was such a wealth of open arms, we started to grasp the gravity of our development. Now, we see more clearly the future implications of our unique bioplastic. We are prepared to commercialize it, offer a range of properties and blends as the market demands, and open this special bioplastic up to a world of new users.”
Relying primarily on hemp sourced in Canada, the capacity of BPP has already surpassed 50 million lbs (roughly 23,000 metric tons) each harvest. They currently are working with hemp Polypropylene, and a hemp-based Poly Lactic Acid used in 3D printing machines, but they believe through further manipulations they can produce any plastic needed. In Tubb’s own words, he wants to see all companies, from “Lego to Lamborghinis” make the switch to bioplastics.