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 very first paper in the world was 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. The quality of hemp 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.
“Hemp hurds are favorable in comparison with those used with pulp wood.”
– Jason L. Merrill, U.S. Department of Agriculture chief scientist in 1916
History of Hemp Paper
World’s First Paper
Hemp was first used as paper in China where hemp fabric was smashed down into thin sheets 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. 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 paper. 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
- 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.
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.
Where to Buy Hemp Paper?
We recommend the following brands
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.
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.