Date: 24 Feb 2010

Industrial hemp or eucalyptus paper?

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Abstract

Background, aim, and scope

Pulp and paper production is one of the most important Portuguese economic activities. Mostly based on eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), nearly 70% of the pulp produced is exported, mainly to the European Union. The aim of this paper is to compare the environmental impacts of the production of Portuguese printing and writing paper based on eucalyptus with those from the production of paper from industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa).

Materials and methods

We have used a life cycle assessment approach to compare both types of paper. The functional unit used was a ton of white printing and writing paper. Data was mostly derived from the Portuguese literature for eucalyptus and from scientific literature for hemp. The impact categories/indicators taken into account were global warming, photochemical oxidant formation (summer smog), acidification, eutrophication, and direct land use.

Results and discussion

Industrial hemp presents higher environmental impacts than eucalyptus paper in all environmental categories analyzed. The main differences are in the crop and the pulp production stages. This is because hemp makes use of higher number of mechanical operations and larger amounts of fertilizer in the former and larger amounts of chemical additives in the latter.

Conclusions

There is scope for improving industrial hemp paper production. We present some suggestions on how to reduce some of the environmental impacts identified for hemp, so that the pulp and paper industry can continue its progress towards a more environmentally friendly paper production.

Recommendations and perspectives

New studies could be based on the alternatives presented throughout the paper for improving hemp paper. Further studies should incorporate analyses on water consumption, soil erosion, soil nutrient depletion, and impacts on biodiversity.