By: Bridey Keating
There’s no doubt that our over consumptive modern lifestyles are depleting the forests at a higher rate than ever before. Food and paper products are the biggest offenders of deforestation, and sadly, the repercussions are severe.
Deforestation causes climate change, habitat loss, soil erosion, and flooding. Today, there is an ever-increasing urgency to combat climate change, as we have accumulated years of destructive behaviors towards our planet. But the urgency to make a change is nothing recent. In fact, over 100 years ago in the year 1916, the US government issued a dire warning about the dangers of relying on wood pulp paper, as wood is highly unsustainable. To replace the increasingly heavy reliance on wood, the USDA bulletin No.404 was created to push the country towards using hemp for paper rather than trees.
“Without a doubt, hemp will continue to be one of the staple agricultural crops of the United States.” ~ 1916 USDA Bulletin No. 404
Over 100 years ago the US government praised the hemp plant for being a sustainable crop that could replace paper made products. The bulletin confirmed with certainty that “hemp would continue to be one of the staple agricultural crops of the United States.” Unfortunately, for many years, hemp was outlawed in the US, and only as of 2018, hemp has become legal in America but with serious governmental restrictions. Yes, in 2019, the US government demonizes the hemp plant for being too closely associated with Marijuana, as both plants fall under the same cannabis family. It’s unfortunate but true that in so many ways, including the progression towards sustainable agriculture, we have taken many steps backward as a country. Luckily, industrial hemp is on the rise for reasons more than CBD and it’s a wonderful, much-needed thing.
The 1916 USDA bulletin No. 404 addressed that our forests were being cut down 3x the rate at which they grew. Over 100 years later, every minute a forest the size of 20 football fields gets cut down and the grow back rate doesn’t match up. Birch for chipboard or paper can be thinned for the first time after 10 or 20 years. A forest of red oak grown for lumber will be ready for harvesting in 52 years, with trees about 25ft each. So putting these statistics together, we are messing up. Big time.
Bulletin No. 404 stated in 1916 that “there seems to be little doubt that the present wood supply can not withstand in-definitely the demands placed upon it. . . it is advisable to investigate the papermaking value of the more promising plant materials before a critical situation arises. . .”
The Department of Agriculture recognized an overconsumption issue then and was trying to take preventative measures to avoid the outcome that has occurred 100 years later. In 2019, we are the critical situation, and it’s time to implement a change, a change proposed a long time ago, that could have helped save our planet and can help save us now. This change is relying on industrial hemp.
Wood is expensive, grows very slowly, and takes up a lot of space, which is why wood should move over and allow hemp to take the driver's seat. In 1916 the USDA bulletin stated that “every 10,000 acres which are devoted to hemp raising year by year is equivalent to a sustained pulp-producing capacity of 40,500 acres of woodlands.” In fact, not only does hemp exceed the pulp-producing capacity of wood for paper products, but hemp wins over wood for a multitude of reasons.
Hemp is cheap and ultra sustainable as it grows rapidly with little sun, water, and little to no fertilizers needed. Hemp grows in a variety of climates and soil types and grows in a tight space (which decreases land use). It also has a fast-growing rate (creating high yields), hence the nickname for cannabis being “weed” as cannabis plants grow very quickly. Hemp regenerates the soil each growth cycle, which allows farmers to grow crops immediately after hemp. The wonder plant has also been used as a natural way to clean up soil pollution, such as at Chernobyl where it was planted to extract toxins and pollutants from the soil and groundwater. CO2 is also absorbed by hemp making the plant carbon-negative!
Hemp paper, made from hemp pulp is also more sustainable than wood, as hemp paper is easier on the planet to produce, is more durable, and recyclable than wood paper. Hemp has a low lignin content as well, which makes it naturally light in color, so less chemical and bleach would be needed to make the paper.
“Since only one year's growth can be harvested annually the supply is not endangered by the pernicious practice of overcropping, which has contributed so much to the present high and increasing cost of pulpwood. The permanency of the supply of hemp hurds thus seems assured" ~Bulletin No. 404
The more we educate each other and our lawmakers by talking, tweeting, commenting, and voting for the change we want to see, the higher the likelihood that change will be made. “There appears to be little doubt that under the present system of use and consumption, the present supply can not withstand the demands placed upon it"- 1916 USDA bulletin No. 404. Our earth is an incredible place, so, let’s push for change and switch to sustainable agricultural crops like hemp so that the children of the future can read and write on the paper of the future.
Want to read the full 1916 Bulletin? Click here: