Cotton makes up the majority of clothes in anyone’s closet, and for a good reason; it’s cheap, widely available, and comfortable. However, environmentalists are increasingly concerned about the role cotton is playing in the planet’s demise, as growing it requires extensive use of agrochemicals and pesticides. It also leads to habitat degradation and is responsible for excessive water use.
Proponents of hemp, on the other hand, claim the plant could solve many of the environmental problems that stem from commercial cotton cultivation. In today’s article, we look at the hemp vs. cotton debate to try and determine whether a full-on switch would indeed be beneficial – or even practical.
A Brief History of Hemp
To understand the hemp vs. cotton debate, let’s take a look at hemp’s longstanding place in history.
Hemp has been around for millennia. It grows all over the planet, and it didn’t take long for ancient civilizations to realize its bountiful uses. Hemp is a sturdy, hardy plant; its stalks are fibrous and thick, allowing them to be used in construction. The seeds are also highly nutritious, which is why many people use hemp seeds as part of the paleo diet and other nutrition plans.
Experts estimate that hemp has been in usage since around 8,000 B.C. This is long before humans cultivated plants. It’s even long before the invention of the technologies required to make clothes. Nevertheless, hemp stuck around with humanity, and we began to use it in different ways.
1) Growing Hemp vs. Growing Cotton
We mentioned earlier that growing industrial hemp could be sustainable. Hemp has an absurd number of uses, including uses in the textile, nutrition, and construction industries. For this reason, hemp can be grown and cultivated for a variety of purposes, meaning virtually 100% of the plant is put to use. Very little is wasted.
Hemp also saves space, as the plants are tall, thin, and don’t take up much room. In some instances, they don’t even need pesticides or chemicals (unlike cotton which is believed to be responsible for 25% of the world’s pesticide use).
And as for water usage, hemp definitely wins out. To produce 1kg (a little over 2lbs) of cotton, growers may require more than 20,000 liters of water. A single kg of dry hemp, on the other hand, can be made using just 300-500 liters of water. Furthermore, 30% of this can be used for fiber production.
2) Hemp vs. Cotton Clothing
As with everything in the world, there are pros and cons to hemp textiles. To make hemp clothing, manufacturers use durable hemp fibers from the stem and stalks of the plant. The qualities of these fibers dictate the characteristics of the final material, which feel quite different from the cotton we are used to.
One of the significant differences between hemp cloth and cotton is that hemp clothes are made from just hemp. Cotton, on the other hand, is often mixed with synthetic fibers and plastics, which contribute to microplastic pollution in the oceans and air.
Additional benefits of hemp clothing include:
- Highly durable
- Becomes softer (and more comfortable) over time
- Highly breathable
- Holds color
- Environmentally friendly
- Keeps you cool when it’s hot, and warm when it’s cold
3) Hemp-Based Health Products
Lastly, it’s common knowledge that there is little to no nutritional value in cotton. In fact, it’s highly dangerous to consume cotton in any form. However, hemp-based products (such as CBD oil) pose a range of health and nutritional benefits due to their interaction with the body’s endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is made up of a vast network of chemical pathways that impact functions throughout the body. That’s why many believe consuming CBD can aid produce a feeling of calm, relaxation, and daily wellbeing.
Final Thoughts on Hemp vs. Cotton
Hemp and cotton have a lot in common. Both have been used by humans for thousands of years, and both can be used in textile production. However, hemp clearly has a number of advantages over cotton – especially when it comes to health and environmental benefits.
In the future, we may start to see industries relying on hemp cultivation and manufacturing because of its sustainable characteristics. This is especially true considering the recent legalization of commercial hemp in the USA. Of course, only time will tell.
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