From nonwovens to animal bedding to flooring, the short and long fibers of the hemp stalk are being used in various applications. What are industrial hemp fiber companies doing today?

Natural-Based Single Use Nonwovens

Automatic doors open as you step foot into a grocery store. You grab a cart with that one squeaky wheel and pull the sanitizing wipe to clean off the cart handle. You toss it, enter the shop with bright luminescent ceiling panels, and have your canvas tote bags in hand. You’re mindful when strolling through aisles, skipping the plastic produce bags, and placing your limes in a reusable cloth bag. You feel good, you’re saving the environment with one reusable bag at a time.

Little did you know that the sanitizing wipes you used earlier were almost equivalent to a plastic bag. Sanitizing wipes are nonwoven and made from synthetic oils like polypropylene, polyester, and cellulose fibers such as cotton and wood pulp. These short-lived but durable materials are made from synthetic oils that produce single-used wipes. There is a shift in end products slowly phasing out petroleum-based fibers and exploring alternatives such as plant-based fibers.

Plant-based fiber companies, like Bast Fibre Technologies, have been researching and developing single-use wipes using natural fibers that include flax, kenaf, and hemp. In our interview with Jason Finnis, Bast Fibre Technologies, he explained why his company focuses on using hemp fiber for its products. “There’s a lot of hemp grown for grain, and there’s a lot of hemp grown for CBD, and we can take fiber from both of those crops and transform them into a fiber that will work here.” With their acquisition earlier this year with Lumberton Cellulose from Georgia-Pacific Cellulose LLC, Bast Fibre Technologies now has a facility in North America, expanding domestic hemp production in the United States.

Their superior natural fiber products made from hemp, sero™, are strong, absorbent, compostable, and most importantly, plastic-free — making them truly sustainable. With disposable single-use nonwovens becoming essential and now can evolve into a better product using natural-based fibers, what other hemp-derived products are out there?

Residential and Commercial Interior Flooring

 We have seen the rise and demand for virgin lumber and the destruction of the logging industry. Habitats are being destroyed, and the animals and plants once called the forest home are endangered or, unfortunately, extinct. Without proper forestry stewardship, deforestation can be detrimental to the environment. What if we can reduce the amount of virgin lumber used by crops such as hemp?

HempWood, voted Agribusiness of the Year by the Hutson School of Agriculture, produces interior flooring made from hemp. The full-size hemp stalks are combined with a plant-based adhesive, heated and compressed, and formed into blocks. The blocks are then cut into 4mm veneers and then adhered to plywood that is formaldehyde-free from an ethically sourced forest with proper forestry stewardship. Interior flooring isn’t the only product they have produced; they have produced lumber and panels that are great for furniture making and cabinetry. If you’re looking into building a home or structure that is eco-friendly, with very little to zero off-gassing, and score LEED points, HempWood is the company you’d want to go with.

Beyond Sustainability

Creating end-products produced to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a goal for which a company should strive. But how do the end products come to be? From how you source the raw material to how its process is as important as the end usage of the products. The circular economy model, or what others call Cradle-to-Cradle, focuses on reducing waste and carbon footprint throughout the supply chain. It starts with an initial idea and creating a smart design. How are your raw materials extracted and sourced? Are they being mined ethically and/or being replenished in a timely fashion? What is the lifecycle of the product? Can it be upcycled, recycled, repurposed, repaired, and/or reused? Companies like Bast Fibre Technologies and HempWood choose to use hemp, an annual crop, because of its short growing season, its carbon sequestering abilities, and superior fiber quality.

HempWood uses hemp within a 100-mile radius to reduce carbon emissions. It also uses hemp waste to create energy that runs its facility, making its facility carbon-negative. The plywood they choose to use as a substrate, Purebond plywood, has been sourced from Columbia Forest. Columbia Forest takes an ethical approach to forestland stewardship and enforces the chain of custody through Forest Stewardship Council (FCS) standards. Their products, HempWood® Natural Flooring and HempWood®, are now USDA Certified Biobased products. “The term “biobased product” means a product determined by the Secretary to be a commercial or industrial product (other than food or feed) that is a – (A) composed, in whole in significant part, of biological products, including renewable domestic agricultural materials, renewable chemicals, and forestry materials; or (B) an intermediate ingredient or feedstock. Biobased Products are derived from raw materials such as plants and other renewable agricultural, marine, and forestry materials. Biobased products generally provide an alternative to conventional petroleum-derived products and include a diverse range of offerings such as lubricants, detergents, inks, fertilizers, and bioplastics.”

sero™, Bast Fiber Technology’s product is also a USDA Biopreferred Certified Product that implements circularity. Their “2R”mission promotes the replacement of plastic and to repair the planet. Their product can “replenish the soil, prevent deforestation, sequester carbon, and eliminate end-of-life microplastic contaminants.”

In Conclusion

Companies such as HempWood and Bast Fibre Technologies positively impact the environment by using superior raw materials like hemp. And from there forward, they plan their supply chain strategically and intentionally with circularity in mind.

In conclusion, if you’re a company that wants to create a product or service that promotes sustainability and circularity, start with a raw material that is well and ethically sourced and work with suppliers in the supply chain to develop GHG and carbon emission accountability and transparency. We, as consumers, can work together by using and purchasing products that combat climate change, positively impacts the environment, and reduce our carbon footprint.

Anna Chanthavongseng – National Hemp Association