A post on Facebook from St Julian’s local councillor, Sean Gauci, has opened a discussion on a viable solution to Malta’s plastic waste problem: hemp.
The picture attached shows the timeline of a hemp bottle breaking down naturally
An alternative to plastic has always been available. But when will Malta being to adopt the practice?
Hemp cloth material has been found in ancient Mesopotamia (present-day Iran and Iraq) dating as far back as 8,000 BC, but what is hemp and how could it be useful to humanities need?
Hemp is the fibre that grows in the stems of cannabis plant species and can be used to make a wide array of materials such as rope, paper, fabric and even as a biodegradable alternative to plastic.
The plants are cheap enough to grow sustainably and grow in abundance within climates very similar to Malta’s. Contrary to the production of plastics, which produces heaps of CO2 and other harmful greenhouse gases, hemp plants photosynthesise. This means that they convert CO2 into breathable oxygen, like any other green plant.
Opposingly, single-use plastics take centuries to break down and decompose. But even then, they still biodegrade into harmful microplastics.
Hemp, on the other hand, biodegrades within a few months and leave no harmful byproducts behind in the environment. Hemp products can also be safely digested by wildlife who may accidentally consume litter, without the risk of impacting their health.
Gauci says that “if we truly want to be the best in Europe, we must be at the forefront of spearheading eco-friendly economies,” and initiatives such as this would work hand-in-hand with Malta’s climate.
“Adopting the use of hemp would be ideal for us,” he explains, “cultivation would offer good paying, skilled jobs. In the transformation process of raw hemp to hemp-based materials, we can expand the possibility of an economical sector by exporting into EU markets.”
A move that would no doubt strengthen Malta’s economy in an environmentally friendly way, for a change, can also tackle one of the island’s biggest problems: waste management.
86% of all waste sits idle in landfill in Malta, whilst we continue to generate more and more.
“It is futile to say we need to reduce plastic without offering a better alternative to the consumer.”
“The government has been promising plastic bottle buy-back schemes on multiple annual budgets but nothing has since materialised,” Gauci protests, “and hundreds of wildlife species continue to die every year from accidental plastic consumption.”
After years of propaganda by big-business oil companies in the first half of the 20th century, who intended to kill the development of hemp as a material (largely due to the fact that it would demolish their corporate profits), Gauci thinks that it is about time we stand up to be counted for when it comes to taking drastic measures to protect the environment.
“Lets begin by taking the first step; a discussion on the legalisation of the cultivation of hemp for the production of materials. This is not a discussion about recreational marijuana, but about researching and investing in an alternative material to reduce the devastation plastic is doing to our planet.”