Explained – How Hemp Paper is Produced
Paper produced entirely or mostly from the fibers of the hemp plant is known as hemp paper. Hemp or industrial hemp is the non-narcotic kin of drug cannabis or marijuana. Hemp belongs to the same plant species Cannabis Sativa L as marijuana.
It’s difficult to understand how hemp paper is produced unless you understand the history of it because the method has evolved over the decades.
This botanical relationship had led to hemp being outlawed in much of the world in the 20th century. Thankfully, many countries have now corrected this human blunder. Hemp has been decriminalized since it does not possess any psychoactive properties.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive element is present in high concentration in drug cannabis: 7.5 to 10 percent or higher. This gives marijuana its capacity to cause the so-called high. THC presence is limited to 0.3 percent or less in hemp, which means this plant has no psychotropic effects.
Hemp Paper Antiquities
Historians inform us that the world’s earliest paper was made by the Chinese from hemp fibers nearly 2,200 years ago around 150 BCE. It spread from China to the Middle East and then to the rest of the world. All paper used in the world was hemp paper till 1883.
The first printed Bible, known as the Gutenberg Bible or the 42-line Bible, used hemp paper. Mark Twain’s novels also got printed on hemp paper. It was hemp paper that Thomas Paine used to print the leaflets that spread the idea of American independence.
The first two drafts of the American Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper. The first version of the US Constitution also got drafted on hemp paper. The current usage of hemp paper, however, is restricted mostly to specialty paper.
Ancient Chinese paper
How Hemp Paper Is Made Today?
Fibers sourced from hemp stalks are among the strongest plant fibers in tensile strength. Hemp stalks yield two types of fibers: long bast fibers and short hemp hurds or pulp fibers. Longer bast fibers come from the outer layer of the hemp stem while hemp hurds refers to the woody inner core.
It is possible to use both types of fibers for the production of hemp paper. Paper made from the long bast fibers is crumbly, thin, and coarse. Paper made from hemp hurds or pulp is thicker and softer. The production process of paper from hemp pulp is also easier.
Hemp paper like traditional paper needs the pulping of the fibers into a slurry. This is easier to do using hemp hurds. The first step is to separate the pulp from other plant matter. The next step is to soak the refined pulp in clean water and pound it to get a pulp slurry.
In industrial papermaking, some additives are used for the slurry. The next step is to remove the excess water from the slurry. The paper machine spreads the slurry on a mobile continuous screen for the water to be drained by gravity or vacuum.
Then the wet paper goes through pressing to be dried. The final outcome is a roll of paper. Cutting the rolls into different paper sizes using mechanized cutters is often a separate enterprise that paper mills do not undertake.
One of the major differences between handmade paper and industrialized paper constitutes in the edges. The machine-cut paper has smooth edges. Wooden frames called deckles are used to cut the paper into different sizes in handmade paper. That leaves the edges slightly uneven. Known as deckle-edges, they indicate that the paper is handmade.
Producing handmade hemp paper
Benefits of Hemp Paper
Knowing how hemp paper is made isn’t enough. You need to know the benefits.
Hemp remained the primary source of papermaking for 2000 years until wood pulp substituted it in the 20th century. The renewed interest in using hemp for papermaking is a result of a growing consciousness about several environmental hazards of using tree paper.
Hemp is nature’s solution to all the problems associated with the use of wood paper. Hemp has considerably higher renewability than trees as a source for paper. The quantity of paper generated from one acre of hemp is equal to what four to 10 acres of trees can produce over a period of 20 years.
The reason behind this productivity is the higher cellulose content in hemp stalks. Cellulose is the main ingredient of paper. Hemp stalks contain up to 85 percent cellulose in comparison to about 30 percent cellulose in wood.
The use of chemicals to remove the non-cellulose contents is significantly higher in the case of wood as nearly 70 percent of the wood is non-cellulose. Also, trees need 20 to 80 years to mature. Hemp, in contrast, is ready for use in four months.
Hemp paper is also significantly more durable than paper produced from wood pulp. It does not yellow and cracks as easily as wood paper. Ancient remnants of hemp paper testify to its durability. Hemp paper is a natural substitute for the special acid paper used for conserving important documents.
Hemp Paper and the Environment
If Mother Earth had a choice, she would choose hemp paper over wood paper. Hemp paper is far more environmentally-friendly than tree paper. Deforestation is a case in point. The world lost 502,000 square miles or 1.3 million square kilometers of forest cover between 1990 and 2016.
The National Geographic published this data quoting a World Bank report. The effects of deforestation are grim and far-reaching. It is one of the primary causes of global warming and climate change. To destroy a forest is also to release the carbon dioxide sequestered there into the atmosphere.
In addition, fewer trees imply a reduced capacity for carbon dioxide absorption. Forests are also critical for the natural water cycle to be maintained. Further, there is the loss of natural habitats for a wide range of flora and fauna. That endangers their existence and threatens the planet’s natural biodiversity.
Using hemp instead of trees for papermaking is one eco-friendly response to the problem of deforestation. In addition to reducing the need to fell trees, hemp also regenerates the soil.
Paper companies planting eucalyptus after felling all the trees in an area does not compare with hemp.
Another environment-friendly aspect of hemp paper is that it needs no bleaching. The production of hemp paper thus eliminates the chances of contaminating water with dioxin or chlorine, as paper mills do. The chemicals used in separating hemp fibers from the lignin are far less toxic.
The only plant better suited for papermaking than hemp is kenaf. However, kenaf does not grow as fast as hemp and does not produce as much fiber as hemp does. Hemp has the potential to meet all our paper needs, but kenaf does not.
How Hemp Paper is Made: Present and Future
Contemporary use of hemp paper is mostly limited to the production of specialty paper such as cigarette paper and cosmetic tissue paper. Only a few companies in Europe and North America have experimented with producing writing paper from hemp.
One of the reasons behind the resistance to using hemp as a source for writing paper could be the costs involved in changing the machinery. About 40 to 60 percent of retooling is necessary to switch from tree paper to hemp paper.
Gmund, a large papermill in Germany is increasingly producing large batches of hemp paper varieties, including writing paper. Other paper mills around the world need to undertake the equipment change to produce more hemp paper unless we want to be left with no more trees to fell.
Jaspreet Singh is the Co-Founder and COO of Hemp Foundation. He is passionate about adventures tours, trekking, and long bike rides.
There was a time when hemp paper was used instead of tree based paper. Read about the production of hemp paper and why it is considered need of the hour.
The Shocking Link Between Paper and Hemp
The Crazy Connection Between Paper And Hemp
With the world being more environmentally aware than ever before, there is now a large focal point on conservation, and more specifically, paper conservation. Higher levels of greenhouse gases are detected every year, and plastered on every office printer room is a large sign, begging you to use paper more wisely and go green. What if we told you that the world may indeed have been a very different place if the Hemp industry was not beaten in the early 1900’s?
In 1916, agricultural scientists in America discovered that it was possible to make paper from hemp pulp. Not only did paper derived from hemp have more favorable properties, it also produced four times the amount of paper per acre compared to trees. Despite it providing a higher yield and being more environmentally friendly, by 1933 the production of hemp fiber was almost non-existent on a national scale. This certainly seems puzzling. Paper made from hemp fibers was used for more than 200 years, dating back to ancient China and the Egyptians. Even the declaration of independence was drafted on hemp paper before being copied onto parchment. So why the change?
The Reasons Wood Pulp Won:
Back when president Hoover was in power in the 1930’s, the owner of one of Americas largest newspaper companies, William Hearst, invested in thousands upon thousands of acres of woodland in order to provide enough pulp for the newspaper industry. Due to the size of his investment in timber, he tried to eradicate hemp as competition in the industry he sought to dominate.
He formed an alliance with DuPont, a petrochemical company that also provided the means necessary to turn wood fibers into paper through a sulfur based chemical process. After realizing the competitive opponent hemp posed to his investment, Hearst began an influential newspaper campaign to dissuade Americans from supporting the hemp industry. He portrayed hemp as an extremely dangerous and malevolent drug, weaving his agenda into the news in a way that would appeal to the racial fears of the time period.
His newspaper had a massive domino effect and happened to be one of the main driving forces behind the illegalization of the growth of plants belonging to the Cannabaceae family. While Hearst struck fear into the hearts of Americans to damage the hemp industry, his associates at the DuPont Corporation were pressurizing the United States congress to pass a bill that would impose sanctions on those who ‘sell, acquire or possess’ marijuana. Hemp, which looked similar, was then cast in a bad light due to the stigma around the family at the time. Essentially, the wood-pulp paper industry succeeded due to it being more profitable.
The world may have been in a vastly different state to what it is now should the hemp paper industry have continued as it was, and here’s why:
Hemp Vs. Wood Pulp
- Compared to its wood pulp counterpart, paper from hemp fibers resists decomposition and does not yellow or brown with age.
- It is also one of the strongest natural fibers in the world, one of the reasons for its longevity and durability.
- Hemp paper can be recycled up to 8 times, compared to just 3 times for paper made from wood pulp – not that recycling paper from hemp pulp would be necessary considering its veritable sustainability.
- Hemp has a much faster crop yield – it takes about 4 months for hemp stalks to reach maturity, while trees can take between 20 to 80 years. Not only does it grow at a faster rate, but hemp also contains a lot more cellulose This quick return means that paper can be produced at a faster rate if hemp were used instead of trees.
- Hemp pulp does not require bleaching or as many chemicals as wood-pulp. Using hemp instead of trees could dramatically decrease the number of toxins and chemicals polluting the earths water supply.
Now, this is not to say the continued use of trees in the paper industry is bad – in fact many companies are using sustainable techniques which have an almost neutral carbon footprint. It is however unfortunate that this was not always so. Should the combined efforts of large corporations hadn’t dissuaded industrial scale hemp paper manufacturing, we may have lived in a greener, cleaner world than we are in today.
The Shocking Link Between Paper and Hemp The Crazy Connection Between Paper And Hemp With the world being more environmentally aware than ever before, there is now a large focal point on