By Carrie Rode,
University of Saskatchewan Student

Change of views

With the push to become more sustainable, society has brought forward the issue of single-use plastics. Single-use plastics are items that are used only once and then are discarded; they include straws, bags, bottles, food packaging and more. In Canada regulations were put into effect as of early November 2017, prohibiting Microbeads in toiletries from being manufactured, imported or sold (Government of Canada, 2018). As of 2019, Canada is taking federal action against plastics in an attempt to “green our country” and get plastic out of the ocean (Government of Canada, 2019).

Why the public is concerned about single-use plastics?

Plastic has a rising number of uses and has become an everyday item. They have since become a concern for the environment and public health, as conventional plastics are not biodegradable and end up in our oceans and landfills, often emitting harmful gases over time (Modi & Rehmatullah, 2018). Typically, conventional plastics are made of petroleum, which is a non-renewable natural resource. The production of conventional plastics from petroleum- therefore depleting the availability of this resource, as well as, pollutes the planet during synthesis. Since these plastics and microbeads cannot be broken down naturally into our environment, they end up polluting the environment. Such pollution in our oceans affects the ecosystems of marine life, which in turn contaminates and endangers aquatic animals that humans eat and at the end of the line, humans consume these products placing human health at risk (Walker & Xanthos, 2018).

Alternatives for Single-Use Plastics

A solution to single-use plastics would be to ban them entirely and mandate people to use alternatives in their everyday lives such as metal straws, reusable coffee cups, and cloth shopping bags. But what if we were able to present alternatives for single-use plastics without banning them entirely? Biotechnological scientists are already developing alternatives that fit in the category of “bioplastics” these include biodegradable polymers (which is what bioplastic is mainly consisted of). These alternatives need to be biodegradable, recyclable and less harmful to the environment than conventional plastics.

A hemp plastic future?

A study testing the biodegradability of Manila hemp fiber plastics, which is completely biodegradable after 240 days in natural soil, as well as, 30 days in composting soil. The results determined that biodegradation was expedited by the compost soil and the evidence of biodegradability was obvious (Ochi, 2011). However, it has been found that some “biodegradable” plastics break down into toxic residues which make them unsuitable for composting, this is untrue for hemp plastic. Therefore, illustrating there is a difference between biodegradable and degradable plastics. Biodegradable means they contribute to the nutrients of the soil without contaminating or posing additional risks, meaning the previously stated “biodegradable” plastic would fall into the degradable category (Song et al., 2009).

Unlike conventional plastics, hemp plastic is made from cellulose derived from the hemp plant. There are two types of hemp plastics: conventional plastics that are reinforced with fibres from the hemp plant, and hemp plastic that is made from one hundred percent hemp fibres and polymers. Hemp plastic, when made only using the hemp plant, is biodegradable and can be recycled. When these products end up in a landfill they will biodegrade into the soil. Environmental benefits of using hemp as a source of bioplastic include being renewable as it has a short growth cycle and absorbs carbon dioxide from the environment while it is growing. In terms of durability, hemp plastic is stronger than conventional plastics, up to 2.5 times stronger in some cases (Modi & Rehmatullah, 2018). While the public may be hesitant to adopt hemp plastic, out of fears of drug effects, this is only a fear and misconception, as hemp is neither a drug or marijuana.

Biodegrading of hemp plastic
Biodegrading of hemp plastic. The pictures from left to right are days: 1, 28, 38, 58, and day 80.
Photo credit: The Earth I Came, And Back To The Earth I Go!
Why would the Public not want to get rid of Single-Use Plastics?

Plastic is desirable as it is versatile in shape (easily moulded thanks to the polymers present) and use, it is hygienic, lightweight, and can have extended durability (Modi & Rehmatullah, 2018). The production costs of biodegradable plastic alternatives are also noticeably higher and require different production process but a similar amount effort to make, as the production and growth of the hemp plant comes before any production of the bioplastic occurs. Whereas, regular plastic requires the extraction of oil and conversion from unstable to stable petroleum before it can be produced. Plastic is so common in everyday life sometimes society does not realize how often they use it. Many members of society already have plastic items they use every day and may not want to give these up.

Is this the end of single-use plastics?

Due to the damage single-use plastics are presenting to the environment and human health the need for biodegradable plastics as an alternative to conventional plastics has increased exponentially. The costs attributed to the production of biodegradable plastics are justifiable to the costs of damage to the planet being caused by plastics. Why force a ban on plastic bags, straws, and food packaging when we can produce an alternative bioplastic that still allows us to have the same attributes we enjoy from plastic? To allow consumers to understand the benefits of hemp plastic vs conventional plastic products they need to be of common knowledge. Societies’ views have already shifted dramatically, once hemp plastic has caught on, both society and scientists can rest assured we are doing our part to help the health of society and the longevity of our planet. The misconceptions associated with hemp plastics will fade and as time goes on we will not even know we are using it.

Carrie R

Carrie Rode

My name is Carrie Rode and I am in my fourth year at the U of S. I was raised in Mankota, a tiny town in southern Saskatchewan. My love for animals sparked my interest in agriculture early on- and since then I have always been involved. After completing my degree, I plan to continue to advance agriculture for the better, correcting the misinformation that is being spread and working within the industry. I one day hope to make a significant contribution to the agriculture field while exploring my passion within it.


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