Imagine if the mass of pollution which closed Durban’s beaches just a few months ago had disintegrated all on its own?
Research shows that there is a way to make plastic that can biodegrade naturally. Conventional plastic bottles and packets take 200-600 years to decompose, according to the experts and even then, the plastic, though invisible to the naked eye, continues to pollute the environment. “The particles break down, but the chemical molecules can still pollute the environment,” said environmental consultant Nicus Durieux. This is because plastic has a high ‘leachate’ potential, meaning that the chemicals and compounds in plastic are water soluble and leak into the environment as the substance disintegrates. And since plastic needs to be exposed to sunlight and oxygen to break down, it is sitting pretty in South African landfill sites. “Landfill sites have anerobic or anoxic conditions, this means that there is no oxygen in the lower layers of the dump,” said Durieux.
Hemp plastic reportedly biodegrades within a matter of months. “Since hemp is an organic material it will decompose faster than pure plastic, and could potentially be disposed of with garden waste,” said Durieux. Although hemp is a variety of Cannibis, according to the Agricultural Research Council website, “hemp is mainly cultivated for fiber and oil and because the delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content is very low, it cannot be used as a drug.” This fast growing plant was first spun into fiber thousands of years ago and today the uses of Hemp are endless. Hemp can be made into biofuel, oil-based-cosmetics, soap, fabric, paper, paint, animal feed and biodegradable plastics. “It’s the perfect rotational crop,” said House of Hemp marketing manager, Daluxolo Kunene. With sub-contracted farms in the Eastern Cape and KZN, House of Hemp has been producing hemp products for over ten years. “There is a strong plastic that can be produced with hemp, but at the moment, all of our hemp oil is being used to produce bio diesel,” said Kunene. Hemp plastic is produced using oil from hemp seeds, explained Kunene.
The benefits of investing into hemp plastic would be seen at landfill sites loaded with plastic waste that doesn’t go away. “Most landfills in KZN have two to 10 years left in their lifespan and there are numerous environmental and location constraints in trying to establish new landfill sites, so it is much better to try and reduce the amount of waste going to landfill,” said Durieux.
Bottles and packaging with a PET or HDPE sign on their base are easily recycled according to Durieux, while few recyclers will recycle LDPE plastic such as plastic grocery packets. Reducing the amount of plastic waste collected in a household is the best way to reduce pollution and reusing plastic containers and packets is a great way to start while research continues.