China, the world's first paper maker, used hemp to make paper 1,900 years ago. Both the Gutenberg Bible (15th Century) and the King James Bible (17th Century) were printed on hemp-based papers.
In addition to paper, hemp can be used for edible oil, automotive oil, cooking and heating fuel, fabric, medicine and construction beams.
Hemp's fibre length and strength make it optimal for replacing old growth forest fibres in high quality papers. Hemp hurds produce four times the paper per acre as wood.
Hemp paper is a renewable industrial raw material and is environmentally friendly. Its pulp is processed with hydrogen peroxide where wood based paper is processed with sulfuric acid. The wood-pulp process is a major industrial pollutant while hemp-pulp is almost pollution free.
Hemp paper is stronger, acid free, has a longer shelf life and costs less than half as much to process as wood-based paper. Hemp paper can be recycled 10 times where wood-based paper can only be recycled twice without losing integrity and requiring additional virgin fibre content.
Hemp primary fibre is an excellent raw material for a range of products including:
Philadelphia’s "Rittenhouse" Paper Mill, the first paper manufacturing facility in the U.S., made recycled paper from cotton rags. Peddlers traveled the New England states regularly, buying old cotton rags from people's homes to make into paper. Cotton paper mills still flourish in the U.S. today making high-end fine papers. In fact, US currency is made from cotton and flax.
Most cotton pulp comes from cotton linters, short clippings that are a residue left from secondary ginning by seed oil companies after the longer fibers are removed from cotton bolls for fabric. Some cotton paper manufacturers are using clippings from organic cotton clothing mills to avoid pesticides. Cotton can also be mixed with other recycled paper fibre for a high quality paper type.
Beginning in the 1950s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture evaluated hundreds of fiber crops and determined that kenaf was the best option for tree-free papermaking in the U.S. The fact that kenaf fibers have many similarities to wood fibres increased its potential adaptability to the current mill system. At present, kenaf is an expensive option due to its lack of economy of scale. This could quickly change with increased demand.
Related to hibiscus, kenaf is a fast-growing plant that can be harvested annually over several months, then compressed and stored for up to four years. It grows in the southern US and yields far more fiber per acre than a comparable-size tree plantation. Pulping kenaf requires less energy than pulping wood and it is more easily bleached with totally chlorine-free processes. Kenaf has great possibility as an environmentally sustainable crop that can bring new life to rural economies.
Flax is characterized by very long, high quality fibres that are ideal for papermaking due to their strength and bonding properties. Flax oil (linseed) is utilized in a number of alternative flooring materials. Flax produces fibers of varying length and as a consequence is suitable for many end products.