We are pretty jazzed to add hemp twine to our line! I personally use twine to wrap gifts, packages, and around the house and garden. I love the way it looks and how effectively it works. Many of our favorite examples of EcoEnclose packaging in action (designed and posted by our amazing companies) feature twine as the pièce de résistance. We finally came to our senses and realized – we need to start offering it ourselves, for those companies we work with that have such an incredible design eye and commitment to every last detail of their packaging.

So the search for the perfect, most eco-friendly, most functional, best looking twine began. We quickly decided on hemp. Why? Hemp is a very strong fiber, biodegradable, compostable, sustainably produced, and a renewable resource. However, unlikely the vast majority of our products, our twine is not American Made because of current US restrictions on hemp crop production and manufacturing. Our twine is ethically manufactured in Hungary.

Why did we opt for hemp over cotton, or any other natural materials? Read on to learn more about the fascinating life of hemp, and why it truly is an eco superstar.

What is hemp?

Hemp — also called industrial hemp — refers to the non-psychoactive (less than 1% THC) varieties of cannabis sativa L. Both hemp and marijuana come from the same cannabis species, but are genetically distinct and are further distinguished by use, chemical makeup, and cultivation methods.

It is one of the fastest growing plants and is a renewable natural resource. Its flowers and seeds can be used in grains, oils, body care and other nutraceuticals. Its stalk is used to make paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, biofuel, and more.

Where is hemp grown and manufactured?

Hemp has been grown in almost every corner of the earth, and is one of the oldest industrialized crops known to man. Columbia History of the World states that the oldest relic of industry in civilization is a scrap of hemp fabric dating back to approximately 8,000 BC.

Over thirty countries currently produce industrial hemp, including Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey and Ukraine. Hemp Twine is only manufactured in Germany, Hungary, Romania, and China. The hemp twine we are looking to source would come from Germany. The fiber is actually grown on the same site the twine is manufactured, using fair labor practices.

What are the advantages of hemp?

Unlike other crops grown for biofuel (such as corn), fiber (such as cotton), and sweetener (such as corn and sugarcane), hemp is significantly more sustainable to grow, and serves as a wonderful example of regenerative agriculture. Specifically:

  1. Hemp is able to be grown without pesticides or herbicides
  2. It is one of the fastest growing plants
  3. The water requirement of hemp is at least 14 times lower than that of cotton
  4. Hemp naturally suppresses weeds
  5. Hemp loosens soil because of its large root system
  6. It can be grown several years in a row in the same fields
  7. Hemp has a short growing season and can be planted after food crops have been harvested
  8. An acre of full grown hemp plants can sustainably provide up to 100 times the cellulose found in one acre of cornstalks, kenaf, or sugar cane.
  9. Hemp will grow in any state in the US and most of Canada. In most places, hemp can be harvested twice a year and, in warmer areas such as southern California, Texas, Florida and the like, it could be a year-round crop. Hemp is an ideal crop for the semi-arid West and open range land.
  10. Hemp is easy on the soil, sheds its lush foliage throughout the season, adding mulch to the soil and helping retain moisture.

Beyond its agricultural advantages, hemp also has a number of advantages in terms of how it can be used. It produces a very strong, durable fiber. It can be a substitute for many other unsustainable / unrenewable resources (everything from paint to plastic). Hemp is Earth’s number-one biomass resource; it is capable of producing 10 tons per acre in four months. Biomass can be converted to methane, methanol or gasoline at a fraction of the current cost of oil, coal, or nuclear energy. It is also a highly nutritious food source.

If it is so wonderful, why can it no longer be grown in the United States?

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified all forms of cannabis — including hemp — as a Schedule I drug, making it illegal to grow regardless of THC levels. An unfortunate by product of this act is that many Americans have now forgotten the industrial uses of hemp, and incorrectly believe hemp is the same thing as marijuana. Canada and the European Union can grow industrial  hemp as long as its THC levels are under 0.3%, and imported hemp products must meet a zero tolerance level.

President Obama signed the Agricultural Act of 2014 on February 7, 2014 including a section known as “Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research” which authorizes institutions of higher education or state department’s of agriculture in states that legalized hemp cultivation to conduct research and pilot programs.

The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 was introduced in January 2015 and would have amended the Controlled Substances Act to remove industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances. The act died in congress, but is an initiative likely to resurface in future sessions.

Some fascinating history tidbits:

*The earliest known woven fabric was apparently of hemp, which began to be worked in the eighth millennium (8,000-7,000 BC).”

*Ninety percent of all ships’ sails (approx. 5th Century BC until mid- to late-19th century) were made from hemp. In addition to canvas sails, until this century virtually all of the rigging, anchor ropes, cargo nets, fishing nets, flags, shrouds, and sealant were made from the stalk of the marijuana plant. Even the sailors’ clothing, right down to the stitching in the seamen’s rope-soled and “canvas” shoes, was crafted from cannabis. Additionally, the ships’ charts, maps, logs, and Bibles were made from paper containing hemp fiber from the time of Columbus (15th century) until the early 1900s in the Western European/American world, and by the Chinese from the 1st Century AD on.

*The word “canvas” is the Dutch pronunciation (twice removed, from French and Latin) of the Greek word “Kannabis.”

*Until the 1820s in America (and until the 20th Century in most of the rest of the world), 80% of all textiles and fabrics used for clothing, tents, bed sheets, and linens, rugs, drapes, quilts, towels, diapers, etc.–and even the US flag, “Old Glory,” were principally made from fibers of cannabis hemp.

*From 70-90% of all rope, twine, and cordage was made from hemp until 1937. It was then regrettably replaced mostly by petrochemical fibers, but at a high cost to the environment.

*Hemp is the perfect archival medium for artists’ work, because it is acid-free. The paintings of Van Gogh, Gainsborough, Rembrandt, etc., were primarily painted on hemp canvas, as were practically all canvas paintings. A strong, lustrous fiber, hemp withstands heat, mildew, insects, and is not damaged by light. Oil paintings on hemp and/or flax canvas have stayed in fine condition for centuries.

*For thousands of years, virtually all good paints and varnishes were made with hempseed oil and/or linseed oil. Until about 1800, hempseed oil was the most consumed lighting oil in America and the world. From then until the 1870s, it was the second most consumed lighting oil, exceeded only by whale oil.

It is intriguing to think of how much the world’s ecology could improve in just a few years if, for instance, half of the world’s paper supply came from hemp fiber instead of trees. Hemp boxes anyone?