By Chris White and Kamala Emanuel
One important fact which has not had much prominence in the woodchipping debate is that growing hemp could be a viable alternative to the woodchipping industry and would create more jobs. Philip Bamback from Newcastle-based Australian Hemp Products talked to Green Left Weekly about the industrial uses of hemp and the March 18 national day of action to legalise hemp.
"Anything made from wood can be made from hemp", said Bamback. "CSR makes medium density fibre boards using wood pulp. Hemp could be grown and put through the same process, and this could save a lot of trees. 120,000 hectares of hemp could supply all of our paper pulp needs. This is compared to 2 million mature trees or 5.5 million tonnes of woodchips every year. Hemp is a crop grown in 120 days compared with 400 years for these trees."
Compared to wood, hemp produces a much friendlier fibre with many environmental advantages. One hectare of annually grown hemp could replace up to four hectare s of trees. It requires less chemicals to convert hemp fibres to pulp with little or no bleaching, resulting in less chemical by-products and dioxin being generated from paper making.
"It would cost the government very little to tell everyone we're growing hemp to stop the forests being cut down. The government is really worried about votes, but they're supposed to worry about the people."
However, hemp has a lot more uses than just as a woodchip substitute. The plant can be used for textiles, cordage, construction products, paper, packaging, furniture, electrical, automotive, paints, sealants, plastics, polymers, lubricants, fuel, energy, biomass, compost, food and feed. "The oil is really good to eat; it builds up your immune system and it has no cholesterol. We were going to use it as a base for cooking oils and salad dressings, and as a base for cosmetics and skin care products."
There are also medicinal uses. "They have been trialing the consumption of hemp seed oil on cancer and aids patients to build up the immune system."
Some people believe that the hole in the ozone layer (and the consequent increase in UV rays) is destroying the world's soy bean crops, which are a main source of protein. "The hemp seed is second only to soy bean in protein and has a near perfect balance of fatty acids omega-6 and 7" Bamback points out. "Once the seeds are pressed for their 30-40% oil, you are left with a protein mash which can be fed to livestock. When fed this mash, they grow as quickly as if they were getting hormones, and it costs so little.
"There is so much deforestation for grain for meat, it's ridiculous. Children die in Third World countries before they are five years old from protein deficiencies. However, these countries can't grow hemp because if they did they wouldn't get United Nations support and/or foreign or military aid from the US government."
The popular misconception is that hemp must be prohibited due to the supposed adverse effects of marijuana. "There are a lot of different strains of cannabis. One of the strains we want to grow here is very low in THC [tetrahydrocannabinol — the psychotropic substance in marijuana]. Hemp is a colloquial term meaning long fibre: you can get it from flax, jute, sisal.
"The other fibres are good, but one of the reasons hemp is being pushed is because of its biomass productivity. They're making paper out of sugar cane and pineapple skins, but you just can't get the same tonnage as hemp. We need a crop that can genuinely replace woodchips and be competitive."
Australian Hemp Products is able to import fibre. However, Australia legally prohibits production of hemp for commercial purposes; the law doesn't distinguish the different strains of cannabis nor the different parts of the plant. Other useful parts — such as the oil — cannot be imported.
While cannabis for commercial purposes could not produce the same narcotic effects as marijuana, Bamback ridiculed the notion that marijuana is dangerous. "There has never been a known case of death from marijuana. Yet there are 3000 deaths a year in the USA from aspirin, which you can buy in the supermarket."
Australian Hemp Products can be contacted c/- EcoHemp, 104 Darby St, Cooks Hill 2300, ph (049) 26 5353, fax (049) 29 4336, email OUOZHEMP@net-ums.newcastle.edu.au.