A look into the future of industrial hemp

A look into the future of industrial hemp

Unsustainable Alberta resources beware: there is a new kid on the block.

Jesse Pollack and Angel Gan from the environmental technology program at SAIT discussed their ongoing sustainability project in an interview on Feb. 25.

They are looking at hemp, a tall, green and stalky plant that could be the solution to sustainable resources in Alberta.

The inherent problem with hemp lies in its close relative species: marijuana.

“The fundamental difference is that there’s only a 0.3 per cent concentration of THC in hemp,” said Pollack.

Gan said that medical marijuana, on the other hand, “produces between five to 30 per cent THC on average.”

Despite the similarities, one can try, but getting high off hemp isn’t possible.

Another difference, according to Pollack is that “it has more fibre in it that can be used in different industrial processes.”

Hemp is very easy to grow in Alberta, making the province one of its leading producers.

In 2011, Alberta produced 40 per cent of Canada’s hemp, according to Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

However, it is lumped with marijuana as a controlled substance, which drives up its price.

Rigorous border control on Canadian soil makes hemp more difficult to transport, so fewer farmers can profit in its cultivation.

Pollack and Gan suggested that if marijuana were legal in Canada, industrial hemp products would be easier and cheaper to produce.

“Most people are not familiar with hemp and its benefits, so we’re trying to educate them,” said Gan.

She said hemp is an excellent source for producing fabric, beauty products, insulation, biofuel and paper, just to name a few.

“There’s even more,” said Pollack.

“It’s insane how much use you can get out of hemp.”

The main draw for SAIT students should be how cultivation of the plant will positively influence Canada’s environment and economy.

Pollack pointed out that hemp could be a solution to steer away from Canada’s wood pulp industry.

“With hemp, you don’t have to bleach the paper so it takes out a lot of the chemical processes,” he said.

The crop also requires less land use and water to grow and maintain than lumber.

“It’s going to be less waste,” said Gan.

According to the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance (CHTA), the fibres in hemp have a longer recyclable material life than paper.

As a crop, the CHTA identifies hemp as a significant absorber of carbon in the atmosphere and retains the pollutant in its roots for its entire life span.

In its cultivation stages, the CHTA said that hemp bonds heavy metals in the ground to its fibres and improves
soil quality.

Until the legalization process proposed by the federal government falls into place, hemp will remain expensive.

For now, Pollack and Gan aim to educate the public with their research and encourage students to choose hemp over other less sustainable sources.

Another way to improve the hemp industry in Alberta is to encourage cultivation in larger quantities by increasing the demand of its production.

“The more you grow, the more you can get out of it,” said Pollack.

At the moment, hemp is grown for a niche market, but with the undeniable benefits, Pollack hopes more research will help the plant reach its full potential.

“It’d be like switching where you buy your fruit and vegetables,” said Pollack.

“It’s by choice.”