The sustainability of hemp board as a material for creating fitted furniture.
Tristan Titeux’s Pioneering Journey to find the most sustainable eco-friendly materials to design and build Empatika’s bespoke Fitted Furniture.
My journey started in December 2010 when I decided to follow my dreams and research and publish my findings of various materials that are available on the European and World market but specially the UK.
This month I am looking at hemp board which is a very sustainable product because hemp grows very fast, can grow almost anywhere and is biodegradable and totally renewable. It is a plant that can take care of itself and requires little to no chemicals to grow (it was used as a first crop in the 1770’s America to improve the bluegrass country that was unsuitable for grains until after hemp had been first grown on the land). So the cultivation of it doesn’t pollute the water courses such as crops like cotton. I mention cotton because Hemp is used like cotton to make fabrics too, but does not need the dangerous and polluting chemicals to support it, so there is little interest there for the petro chemical industry (the cotton industry accounts for 25% of the all the insecticides used in the world).
Hemp is a vigurous plant that overshadows any competing weeds.
It is also much easier to process into usable materials than wood is to make paper as it needs less chemicals, water and processing. Hemp paper is very strong and outlasts paper made from wood pulp (a single acre of hemp can yield as much pulp-for-paper as 4 acres of trees. It has been estimated that to use hemp for our paper needs instead of conventional trees would only be one sixth as polluting and would, per acre, yield 4 times as much paper).
The first and second drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper in the summer of 1776.
The US constitution drafts on hemp paper.
Even Henry Ford built a car made of Hemp and other plant based materials, it was also designed to run on hemp fuel. Although quite rightly he was proud of his invention, do you think that Mr Gulf or Esso were so happy about it?
As sustainability is now a globally recognized issue, by governments and their new regulations and many consumers being better informed and able to make more sustainable buying choices, companies are starting to see that it is possible to make profit and be sustainable at the same time and feel a great sense of personal satisfaction. I foresee the day when you will drive a car that at the end of it’s useful life will rot into your compost (if you are lucky to have a big enough one) and that run on nothing but salt or rain water and expelling it out of the other end and on along it’s cyclic journey to the next machine, plant or human that needs it. If Henry Ford could make his car of hemp in 1937, look how much technology has advanced now in 2011 when we can harvest the energy from the sun and imagine what is possible without raping the earth and stealing from our children and their children’s children for our selfish wants, (maybe harsh, but true words).
Hemp Board is currently mainly produced and grown in China, though some is available in the US (made from imported hemp), Germany grows and manufactures small amounts of hempboard, France also produce Hemp based construction materials, but I can only find hemp insulation made in England. I hope to bring Hemp Board to the forefront of the sustainable building movement, and let people see the amazing plant that it was once and still is. A lot of the solutions for our future are right here right now without having to look too far, we just need to take the time to look.
Hemp MDF is Stronger than MDF
People often say to me “Will it last as long, be as strong and as good as current materials?” Well the good news is Hemp is also stronger than wood mdf and strawboard which are of interest to me, I am not in search of the one material because there is no one material that suits all and this is not sustainable, we need many solutions to sustainability and don’t let anyone tell you “this is what will save the world” because if you over use one thing and produce mono crops you make yourself vulnerable to extinction. One of the models that I use to understand sustainability is the wonderful amazon forest (or any virgin or old growth forest), in the amazon there is the most amazing diversity, there is no one plant that takes over and that way you have a balance, just like in the forest of the human body illness only takes over once we have an imbalance. Whatever we do in life we need a balance, once one thing takes over too much we get into “trouble”, in crops diseases take over and more and more chemicals are needed to control disease. Hemp boards tested by Washington State University Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory proved to be two and one half times stronger than wood MDF.
Hemp is also moisture resistant and a natural fire retardant, it does not burn, but instead glows, so you don’t get flames that get out of hand and ignite other things around it. How amazing is that? This is the kind of thing a composites company woudl make headlines wiht after years of research and expensive patents to make a man made material fire retardant or moisture resistant usually using nasty chemicals, and here we have curtesy of mother nature a material that does both these things and that is totally healthy and natural!
I think we need to look under our feet for the answers to our many questions. The reasons why we have certain materials and not others or better ones is because of financial and selfish reasons rather than because we have found the best material for something, but rather because a company owns the rights to a material and is has a bigger financial stronghold. Ethics I am afraid do not come in to things very much these days, it is all about who holds the money decides what we get.
In early 1937 mass processing of hemp was made possible with the invention of a machine that was set to revolutionise the processing of hemp, this created a big threat to the competition which was the petrochemical and wood-based paper and cotton fibre industries and so they protected themselves from competition by managing to reclassify hemp as marijuana, despite the fact that hemp is from the same plant family, hemp contains less than 1% THC which is as good as none and it is still not allowed to be grown in the US today.
Hemp has been grown and manufactured worldwide for at least 10,000 years and has been one of England’s oldest crops. Places like Hempton, Hemel Hempstead, Hempbridge and Hempholme are all are named after the hemp once grown there. It was such an important crop that during the reign of Elizabeth the 1st, fines of five gold sovereigns were given to farmers who didn’t want to grow it. This testifies to the importance of the use of hemp for England’s maritime supremacy at that time, hemp was used for ship rigging, sails, uniforms, lamp oil and many more things.
Famous People’s quotes:
“Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the fields?” Henry Ford
George Washington (First president of the US 1732-1799)
“Make the most you can of the hemp seed & sow it everywhere.”
Thomas Jefferson (3rd president of the US 1743-1826)
“Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country”
Find out more about hemp here. Hemp Board Links: In 1993 a US company called C&S SPECIALTY BUILDER’S SUPPLY INC. of Harrisburg, Oregon started investigating the use of hemp hurds to make a glue to glue the hemp fibers together, this would make the natural board of the future I am already talking about a reality, unfortunately I think that company no longer exists and we no one has carried on the work they started. Now is the time to start it up again, we need this natural glue so that we can have a natural material to make fitted furniture. See more about C&S here: http://www.ratical.org/renewables/plywood.html
In the late 1990’s a trial was made in Ireland to test how hemp could be used to supplement wood in MDF production. Read it here.
If you are interested in finding sources or more information on sustainable construction I would be delighted to help if you contact me at Eco@empatika.uk www.empatika.uk
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