Hemp paper: an history of eco-sustainability
Among the many important inventions credited to the Chinese, hemp paper must surely rank at the very top.
Without paper, the progress of civilization would have advanced at a snail’s pace.
Mass production of newspapers, magazines, books, notepaper, etc, would all be impossible. Business and industry would come to a standstill without paper to record transactions, keep track of inventories, and make payments of large sums of money.
Nearly every activity we now take for granted would be a monumental undertaking were it not for paper.
Where did it all started?
According to Chinese legend, the paper-making process was invented by a minor court official, Ts’ai Lun, in A.D. 105.
No one knows how Ts’ai Lun finally discovered the secret of manufacturing paper from fiber. Perhaps it was a case of trial and error. However, the method he finally devised involved crushing hemp fibers and mulberry tree bark into a pulp and placing the mixture in a tank of water.
Eventually, the fibers rose to the top all tangled together. Portions of this flotsam were then removed and placed in a mold. When dried in such molds, the fibers formed into sheets which could then be written on. (druglibrary.com)
The discovery of fragments of paper containing hemp fiber in a grave in China dating back to the first century B.C., puts the invention long before the time of Ts’ai Lun.
The Chinese kept the secret of paper hidden for many centuries, but eventually it became known to the Japanese. In a small book entitled A Handy Guide to Papermaking, dating back to the fifth century A.D., the author states that
“Hemp and mulberry… have long been used in worshipping the gods. The business of paper making therefore, is no ignoble calling.”
It was not until the ninth century A.D. that the Arabs, and through them the rest of the world, learned how to manufacture paper.
The events that led to the disclosure of the paper-making process are somewhat uncertain, but apparently the secret was pried from some Chinese prisoners captured by the Arabs during the Battle of Samarkand (in present-day Russia).
Once the Arabs learned the secret, they began producing their own paper.
By the twelfth century A.D., paper mills were operating in the Moorish cities of Valencia, Toledo, and Xativa, in Spain.
After the ousting of the Arabs from Spain, the art became known to the rest of Europe, and it was not long before paper mills were flourishing not only in Spain, but in France, Italy, Germany, and England, all of them using the ancient Chinese system “invented” by Ts’ai Lun.
Uses of hemp paper
The Gutenberg Bibles were printed on hemp paper, as was
The Declaration of Independence.
George Washington grew industrial hemp.
Thomas Jefferson was a supporter of industrial hemp, and encouraged farmers to grow hemp instead of tobacco.
In 1916, the Department of Agriculture published a bulletin on the industrial use of hemp.
In bulletin No. 404, it was suggested that hemp should be used for paper production instead of wood pulp.
Hemp paper today: why using it?
As a source of pulp for paper and cardboard, hemp once again emerges as the superior alternative to wood pulp.
- Hemp produces four times as much pulp per hectare as trees grown specifically for pulp.
- Its pulp, unlike wood pulp, does not require bleaching with dioxins and creates no toxic waste. Hemp needs only hydrogen peroxide, which is already a whitener.
- Hemp pulp (77% cellulose) produces stronger paper which can be recycled 7 to 10 times , compared to wood pulp paper (30% cellulose) which can be recycled 2 or 3 times.
- The natural anti-bacterial nature of hemp means hemp paper does not degrade like wood pulp paper and for this reason is often used for archival papers which need to be stored and retained. Hemp paper more than 1,500 years old has been found!
- Hemp fiber paper resists decomposition, and does not yellow with age when an acid-free process is used. In the production of paper, acidic or alkaline chemicals, which are harmful to the environment are used.
- Hemp can be made into every grade of paper, from fine stock to index cards, corrugated cardboard and newsprint. Today is still used in cigarettes paper, currency, fine art stock and security papers like stock certificate.
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(Anna Marie Bowman)
(Marihuana, The First Twelve Thousand Years, 1980, Ernest L. Abel)