By / July 4, 2023

Can Hemp Bioplastic Replace Polyethylene in Plastic Packaging?

Hemp bioplastic has shown promise as an alternative to traditional plastic packaging, according to Canadian research. While not yet meeting all standards, it offers strength and flexibility for various applications. However, the business potential and cost-effectiveness of hemp-based plastics are still being optimized. The industry also faces resistance from oil-based plastic producers.

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Hemp Bioplastic Could Replace Packaging

The first main application of hemp bioplastic could be packaging, as suggested by the latest research by Canadian scientists. A team from Western University (WU) in London, Ontario, replaced high-density polyethylene pellets used in traditional plastics with a powder obtained from grinding hemp stalks. This material was directly introduced into the current production process for packaging, without the need for special technology or processes.

“This work demonstrates a new series of biocomposites… that can be fully sourced from renewable resources and have great potential for biodegradation in the environment,” according to a hemp bioplastic study published in the Journal of Polymer Science.

Hemp Bioplastic ‘Works Great’

Tests showed that although the strength and plasticity of the hemp bioplastic material do not meet the standards of conventional plastics, it is stronger and more flexible than other plant-based materials, and its quality is sufficient for many applications.

“When it comes to packaging, plastics replace things like metal and glass. They are heavy and expensive,” says Elizabeth Gillies, a chemistry professor at WU and the author of the hemp bioplastic article, in an interview with Canadian broadcaster CBC. “Depending on the shape, hemp can have a fibrous structure that works great as reinforcement for materials.”

Plastic Crisis

In the face of recycling programs that are unable to solve the problem of plastic waste and the global crisis of microplastic pollution, hemp bioplastic offer an environmentally friendly alternative, notes the research author.

“Glass recycling is not a very profitable business, and although many plastics are potentially recyclable, in practice, they often are not,” says Gillies, who works in the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at the university and is also the chair of the Canadian Committee on Research in Biomaterials Polymers at WU.

A Sober Look at Hemp Bioplastic Business Prospects

The article is part of the growing hype around hemp fiber as a raw material for hemp bioplastics production, but it soberly assesses the business potential of this solution: “In terms of costs, biomaterials are currently more expensive to produce than plastics, but companies are working on optimization and cost reduction, so we expect costs to decrease in the coming years along with the improvement of these technologies.”

Hemp bioplastic, like eco-friendly hemp-based building materials, will undoubtedly face strong resistance from plastic producers whose products are based on crude oil. This means that investments in the hemp bioplastic sector will develop slowly as it is essentially still in the experimental stage.

(Featured image by Kindel Media via Pexels)

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