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More than a third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted every year. That translates to around 1.4 billion tons per year, costing billions of dollars, taking up the majority of landfill mass, and producing methane pollution.
Hemp has long been used as a widely compatible agricultural crop. But its multifunctional applications make it an especially attractive option for preventing waste, preserving food, and even reversing some of the effects of inefficient agricultural and industrial food systems.
Here is a look at how hemp waste is upending food waste.
Hemp Plant Utility
Hemp plants are climate and disease resilient, making them a low-maintenance alternative to other cash crops. This sativa variant of cannabis can return up to 70% of its nutrients and minerals to the soil, requiring little or no fertilizer and promoting enriched soil for future land use by other staple crops. Hemp is better at sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere than most trees, and all parts of the plant can be used or repurposed.
Hemp is valuable to the food industry because of its unique structure and chemical properties. Part of the reason that hemp delays food spoilage is likely due to its antimicrobial activity because of cannabidiol’s “excellent [demonstrated] activity against biofilm,” revealed a 2021 study.
The most popular hemp-derived product across the world is CBD oil. This oil is extracted from the flowers. But what of the parts of the plants left behind during the manufacturing process?
In the US, state governments apply strict regulations on how hemp waste can be managed and by whom. Any hemp crop that tests above 0.3 THC falls under the USDA’s Interim Final Rule (IFR), dictating that the crop must be destroyed by plowing, cutting, shredding, trenching, burning, or leveling the field with careful documentation. Once this waste is rendered unfit for human consumption, it is left to the same fate as food waste. But, even at the end of this lifecycle, this fiber-rich plant can be repurposed for use in various industries, including manufacturing, clothing, and waste management.
Turning Hemp Waste into Solutions
When processed in many of the ways dictated by the IFR, hemp can be further broken down, mixed with other inputs, and transformed into alternative-purpose materials.
Two Canadian companies are looking to repurpose hemp by-products into food preservation solutions for both industrial and consumer markets.
Canadian Greenfield Technologies (CGT), a hemp-manufacturing equipment supplier, recently launched its new trademarked processing system, called HempTrain. This new technology separates bast fibers from the hemp stem (feedstock), producing hemp hurds, a woody residue that makes up the bulk of a hemp plant but with the least value. The hemp hurds are technically hemp waster, but now can then be used as inputs for construction materials, mulch, and animal bedding. Alternatively, when the same material is processed before drying, fresh, green feedstock is produced and can be used for animal feed.
CGT’s advertising campaign claims that “Hemp Saves Food,” with video demonstrations and explanations of the impact that these hurds (formerly hemp waste) can have on food preservation and shelf-life elongation.
Hempalta takes CGT’s technology offerings even further. The Calgary-based hemp brand recently acquired industrial hemp processing assets and a products division from CGT to package and produce ready-to-use pouches for consumers, featuring a hay-like bed within a mesh cloth intended for placing fresh produce on.
Stored Naturally is another company using hemp to prolong the life of food. The Australian-based brand offers Fresh Produce Enhancer bags as a natural, clean, and chemical-free storage option to keep produce fresh and crisp for longer. These bags can be used just like plastic produce bags found in grocery stores and put straight in the fridge with the produce inside.
A Strong Case for Hemp Waste to Save the World
These companies offer a small snapshot of the potential that hemp has for reducing waste, preserving food, and creating a healthier, more waste-mindful planet. But using hemp fibers to produce bedding isn’t the only food preservation option that hemp can provide.
Applying CBD oil directly to produce has been shown to increase the microbial and visual shelf-life, appealing to consumers’ favorability towards clean, visually appealing produce. Alternatively, The Hemp Plastic Company offers food storage solutions with hemp-based bioplastics.
The accessibility and low cost of hemp materials make this an economically advantageous time for emerging brands and manufacturers to design and develop hemp-based food preservation products, especially in the US, where hemp farmers have been left with a surplus of hemp due to the decreased market demand experienced leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hemp can’t transform the food industry or even consumer food waste trends overnight, but it can provide scientifically supported evidence of its effectiveness in preventing it in the first place. What’s more, most methods are cheap, replicable, and scalable and can be easily incorporated into the existing frameworks and systems of how grocery stores, food transportation systems, storage facilities, and consumers already manage, buy, and consume their food.