The Crazy Connection Between Paper And Hemp

With the world being more environmentally aware than ever before, there is now a large focal point on conservation, and more specifically, paper conservation. Higher levels of greenhouse gases are detected every year, and plastered on every office printer room is a large sign, begging you to use paper more wisely and go green. What if we told you that the world may indeed have been a very different place if the Hemp industry was not beaten in the early 1900’s?

In 1916, agricultural scientists in America discovered that it was possible to make paper from hemp pulp. Not only did paper derived from hemp have more favorable properties, it also produced four times the amount of paper per acre compared to trees. Despite it providing a higher yield and being more environmentally friendly, by 1933 the production of hemp fiber was almost non-existent on a national scale. This certainly seems puzzling. Paper made from hemp fibers was used for more than 200 years, dating back to ancient China and the Egyptians. Even the declaration of independence was drafted on hemp paper before being copied onto parchment. So why the change?

The Reasons Wood Pulp Won:

Back when president Hoover was in power in the 1930’s, the owner of one of Americas largest newspaper companies, William Hearst, invested in thousands upon thousands of acres of woodland in order to provide enough pulp for the newspaper industry. Due to the size of his investment in timber, he tried to eradicate hemp as competition in the industry he sought to dominate.

He formed an alliance with DuPont, a petrochemical company that also provided the means necessary to turn wood fibers into paper through a sulfur based chemical process. After realizing the competitive opponent hemp posed to his investment, Hearst began an influential newspaper campaign to dissuade Americans from supporting the hemp industry. He portrayed hemp as an extremely dangerous and malevolent drug, weaving his agenda into the news in a way that would appeal to the racial fears of the time period.

His newspaper had a massive domino effect and happened to be one of the main driving forces behind the illegalization of the growth of plants belonging to the Cannabaceae family. While Hearst struck fear into the hearts of Americans to damage the hemp industry, his associates at the DuPont Corporation were pressurizing the United States congress to pass a bill that would impose sanctions on those who ‘sell, acquire or possess’ marijuana. Hemp, which looked similar, was then cast in a bad light due to the stigma around the family at the time. Essentially, the wood-pulp paper industry succeeded due to it being more profitable.

The world may have been in a vastly different state to what it is now should the hemp paper industry have continued as it was, and here’s why:

Hemp Vs. Wood Pulp​​​​​​

  • Compared to its wood pulp counterpart, paper from hemp fibers resists decomposition and does not yellow or brown with age.
  • It is also one of the strongest natural fibers in the world, one of the reasons for its longevity and durability.
  • Hemp paper can be recycled up to 8 times, compared to just 3 times for paper made from wood pulp – not that recycling paper from hemp pulp would be necessary considering its veritable sustainability.
  • Hemp has a much faster crop yield – it takes about 4 months for hemp stalks to reach maturity, while trees can take between 20 to 80 years. Not only does it grow at a faster rate, but hemp also contains a lot more cellulose This quick return means that paper can be produced at a faster rate if hemp were used instead of trees.
  • Hemp pulp does not require bleaching or as many chemicals as wood-pulp. Using hemp instead of trees could dramatically decrease the number of toxins and chemicals polluting the earths water supply.

Now, this is not to say the continued use of trees in the paper industry is bad – in fact many companies are using sustainable techniques which have an almost neutral carbon footprint. It is however unfortunate that this was not always so. Should the combined efforts of large corporations hadn’t dissuaded industrial scale hemp paper manufacturing, we may have lived in a greener, cleaner world than we are in today.