Hemp paper is a valuable alternative to conventional paper made from trees, and could provide a more renewable source for much of the world’s paper needs.
The very first paper in the world was partly made from hemp, and as a plant, hemp is more suitable for paper as it has a higher cellulose and lower lignin content. Hemp paper is also much more eco-friendly and sustainable than tree paper, as hemp can be produced much quicker than trees.
However, much like hemp-based plastic, we can’t replace all of our massive demand for paper with hemp paper overnight. While hemp was recently legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill, there’s still not enough raw material (hemp plants) available to replace all of our uses for trees. In addition, the technology for mass-producing the kinds of paper we’re used to buying, like printer paper, are still being perfected. At the same time, some great companies (see below!) are already working with hemp paper, and can print everything from business cards to hemp product packaging for you on it.
Table of Contents
- What is hemp paper?
- History of hemp paper
- Benefits of paper made from hemp
- The dangers of deforestation
- What about hemp toilet paper?
- The future of hemp paper
- Where you can buy hemp paper
What is Hemp Paper?
Hemp paper can be made from hemp plants’ long bast fiber or the short bast fiber (hurd or pulp). 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. The chemical composition of hemp hurds is similar to that of wood, making hemp a good choice as a raw material for manufacturing paper. The quality of paper is actually higher than wood, as hemp pulp is much better for paper than wood pulp. Hemp was widely used across the world in the 1800s, but declined in the early 1900s as hemp production and trading started to be prohibited.
History of Hemp Paper
- World’s First Paper:
Hemp was first used as paper in China. Paper’s inventors smashed hemp fabric down into thin sheets along with other agricultural waste to make the world’s first paper. The first identified paper dates back to the early Western Han Dynasty, which was around 200-150 BC. This early paper probably replaced cumbersome tablets made from stone or clay. Hemp, was already part of human’s everyday lives for centuries as a source of food, fabric, and rope among other products, making it a readily available raw material to make the world’s first paper.
- Hemp Paper Spreads From China, through the Middle East, to the World.
Soon after paper’s invention, the Chinese realized it’s essential for record-keeping, note taking, and printing books. They also quickly discovered that hemp paper could be used to wrap delicate items, such as porcelain, during shipment. From there paper spread into the Middle East. The first paper mills, built in China and the Middle East during the 700s, made hemp paper, first through human or animal powered mills, but later using water power. Since then, hemp paper was used all across the world. The Gutenberg Bible, Thomas Paine’s pamphlets, and the novels of Mark Twain were all printed on hemp. Even in Russia, hemp paper was used to print “bank notes, stamped paper, credit bills, postal stamps, bonds, stocks, and other watermarked paper” in the 1800s.
- Used by our Founding Fathers.
The history of hemp paper in the US goes all the way back to our founding fathers. Although the final versions were written on parchment, the first and second drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on Dutch hemp paper in the summer of 1776. Even prior to US independence, hemp was considered a crucial part of the revolution against Britain. Hemp was the key source of paper in the colonies, and was used to print pamphlets that helped spread the revolution ideas. This helped establish the desire for independence in colonist’s minds.
- Forgotten in the 1900s
The turning point and biggest crisis for hemp came in the 1930s, when big synthetic textile companies and newspapers used lobbying powers to prohibit the cultivation of hemp in the United States. This was a quite ironic, as the laws were enacted only a few months after Popular Mechanics had deemed hemp to be on the verge of becoming a “billion dollar crop”. Hemp or hemp paper never fully recovered from this prohibition, and is mainly used in specialty paper currently.
Benefits of Hemp Paper
Hemp vs Trees – and how hemp can help solve the deforestation crisis.
- 1 acre of Hemp can produce as much paper as 4-10 acres of trees over a 20 year cycle.
- Hemp stalks grow in 4 months, whereas trees take 20-80 years.
- Hemp has higher concentration of cellulose than wood, the principal ingredient in paper.
- Trees are made up of only 30% cellulose, requiring the use of toxic chemicals to remove the other 70%. Hemp, on the other hand, can have have up to 85% cellulose content.
- Hemp has lower lignin content than wood. Hemp contains 5-24% lignin whereas wood has 20-35%. This is advantageous as lignin must be removed from the pulp before it can be processed as paper.
- Hemp paper is more durable than trees. Hemp paper does not yellow, crack, or deteriorate like tree paper.
- Wider use of hemp paper can help sustainability efforts to reduce deforestation.
Why Deforestation is a Serious Matter
- Losing our mature forests
According to the National Geographic, we are cutting down forests the size of Panama each and every year. Already in North America, we have lost 97% of the mature forest that existed when the European settlers came in the 17th century. The world’s rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation. Although there are critics who claim that paper companies are planting fast-growing eucaplyptus trees after clearing the land, the replanting practices of logging companies are a poor substitute for natural forest as biodiversity and wildlife are destroyed.
- Species Extinction
The biggest impact of deforestation is the loss of habitat for millions of species. 70-80% of Earth’s land animals and plants live in forests. More and more species are going extinct every year because they lose their homes and since they become more exposed to hunters and poachers. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the original rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day. At this rate, they are predicting that 30-50% of all species could possibly be facing extinction by mid-century.
- Driving Climate Change
As our forests disappear, climate change will only accelerate. Forests are vital to conserving the soil and maintaining our air by removing carbon dioxide and returning oxygen. The forests also keep the soil moist and help maintain the natural water cycle by returning water vapor back into the atmosphere. Without trees and the canopy they create, our lands are quickly turning into dry desserts. Trees also help to absorb the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming. Fewer forests means larger amounts of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere—increasing the speed of global warming.
What about hemp toilet paper?
It might not surprise you to know that toilet paper is a major source of waste. So why not at least make toilet paper from hemp rather than trees?
With the supply chain issues caused by the novel coronavirus, most of us have been thinking more about toilet paper lately. We’ve all become a little more aware of how much we use and even how necessary it is to the comfort of our lives.
According to a report published in March 2020 by Big Think, Americans use more toilet paper than any other country in the world. It turns out we’re each flushing about 384 trees down the toilet over the course of our lives.
Also in March, our friends at WAMA Underwear investigated hemp toilet paper. Unfortunately, the most reliable way to get hemp toilet paper currently is to order it from individual vendors on Alibaba. There’s currently no large scale (or even smaller) U.S. brand that we’re of aware of which sells hemp toilet paper to the public. It’s also all made from Chinese hemp. That means that although you aren’t killing a tree, the sustainability is greatly reduced by the distance these rolls travel.
Just like hemp paper in general, the availability of hemp toilet paper should grow … as long as we grow more of the right kinds of hemp in the U.S.
The Future of Hemp Paper
Paper waste and deforestation are a massive problem, and hemp can be part of the solution. However, it will take years to develop the infrastructure for an alternative hemp paper industry that can really make a dent in the conventional paper industry.
One barrier is creating a large supply of domestic hemp. Currently, most hemp is imported from Canada or overseas, greatly increasing the cost. While the U.S. grew over 75,000 acres of hemp in 2018, and that number is expected to rapidly rise, most of that hemp was grown for CBD oil or hemp bodycare products. With full legalization of hemp, we hope to see more hemp grown for pulp. In addition, more paper mills will need to add hemp paper, including learning to adapt their machinery for hemp printing.
One promising path for the future of hemp paper? Some companies, like Tree Free Hemp and Hemp.Press, are experimenting with taking the waste products from other hemp products and turning them into paper. This means that someday, when you buy CBD oil, the box it comes in might be printed from hemp paper made out of the leftover plant material used to make the supplement itself.
Where to Buy Hemp Paper?
We recommend the following brands:
- 1. Tree Free Hemp
Tree Free Hemp provides hemp-blended paper products, custom hemp printing services and hemp packaging. Great option for your next set of event flyers, posters, and business cards.
- 2. Green Field Paper Co
Since 1992, Green Field Paper Company handmade paper has been crafted one sheet at a time here in San Diego, California. We love their selections of journal and sketch books.
- 3. Rawganique
Made in the US or Canada, Rawganique also offers a wide range of paper products. They offer paper with printing options along with notebooks that you can use if your daily life.