Western researchers develop new hemp-based biomaterial to replace plastic packaging

With many countries around the globe, including Canada, enacting bans on certain single-use plastics, Western University scientists believe they’ve come up with a replacement that is both suitable and sustainable.

Research teams led by Western Chemistry Professor Elizabeth Gillies and Mechanical and Materials Engineering Professor Aaron Price worked with British Columbia-based manufacturer CTK Bio Canada to develop the new biodegradable, hemp-based material. Early indications are that it could be the new go-to packaging, replacing plastics that are at the centre of a microplastics pollution crisis.

“When it comes to packaging, plastic replaces things like metal and glass. Those are heavy and expensive,” said Gillies, who is also the Canada Research Chair in polymeric biomaterials. “Glass recycling is not a very profitable business and while many plastics are potentially recyclable, it often doesn’t happen in practice.”

The research teams selected hemp as it is a sustainable agricultural crop that requires minimal resources to grow. The fact that it is often cast off to landfills and compost heaps by Canada’s large cannabis industry also made it an attractive option. However, the clincher was that it has a solid structural makeup.

“Depending on the form, hemp can have a fibrous structure, which acts perfectly as a reinforcement for materials,” said Gillies. “Basically, hemp is stronger and more malleable than many other biomaterials.”

The aim of the project was to find a proxy for widely used industrial plastics such as high-density polyethylene pellets, which could be fed into the same manufacturing process currently used to produce plastic packaging.

Researchers determined that the new hemp-based biomaterial approaches necessary qualities, depending on the application, as the current packaging plastics. Although its mechanical properties like strength and malleability are not quite the same.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Polymer Science, validates the new hemp-based biomaterial’s potential as a plastic alternative and opens the door to future industry collaborations and partnerships, according to researchers.

You May Also Like

More From Author