With climate change a constant hot button issue, the rise of any new industry to a massive and global scale always attracts interested parties. The same has also been true for the CBD industry, which was globally valued over $500 million USD in 2020 and expected to top $4 billion USD by 2027. 

That is a significant amount of growth in a short time, relatively speaking. With the environmental impact of mass agricultural farming increasingly being viewed as a negative, you might be interested the forecasted growth in CBD products. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a natural compound that is extracted from hemp. Hemp as a plant has many uses, including to produce CBD. 

To grow that much as an industry, the farming of hemp will have to increase eight-fold. Between the requirement of water to grow plants, the use of pesticides, the equipment needed to harvest it, the fuel used to distribute it globally, waste, and recyclability of crops, the question has to be asked: Is the growth of the CBD and hemp industry something that is environmentally sustainable or not?

#1) Cultivation

The first issue with most crop farming is with its cultivation. Most crops require a lot of land to grow at such a large scale, as well as water and manure to grow them. They also use a lot of pesticides to prevent the crops from being wasted due to pests eating it. The result of this process for many crops is that commercial agriculture can have a negative impact on the environment. 

However, this does not appear to be the case for hemp, and there are a few reasons for that. First, hemp is very efficient. It grows and can be harvested relatively quickly, giving it a high rate of production. This means it doesn’t need to take up as much land. It’s also very durable and does not require massive use of pesticides or manure to grow. Finally, its roots grow quite deep, meaning it can draw water and nutrients deep under the topsoil, helping to preserve the balance of minerals at the surface of the earth. 

Not only does hemp avoid having a negative effect on the environment, there are some studies that say it has a positive effect. It has been found to remove traces of heavy metals from the soil that can contaminate it, resulting in cleaner soil. It has also been found to process around 1.6 tonnes of carbon for every ton of hemp grown. That makes it one of the most efficient plants for cleaning the air.

#2) Harvesting and Distribution 

The other common environmental issue with mass agriculture is the harvesting and distribution that is required at such a large scale. It requires a lot of fossil fuel to manage both, especially if a crop winds up being shipped internationally to countries all over the world. 

Unfortunately, this is an issue that CBD and CBD softgels cannot get around, but it might not be as bad as it is currently. Since hemp is so hardy and relatively easy to grow at scale, it is a crop that can be grown locally in almost any country in the world. This could cut down on the environmental impact of distributing CBD product long distances. 

However, many countries currently do not allow for hemp to be grown, but will allow for it to be imported. The more that these countries remove such restrictions, the more they can allow for local cultivation, harvesting, product manufacturing, and distribution.

#3) Waste and Recyclability

The other issue with mass-scale agriculture is how much waste there is, as well as a lack of recyclability of a CBD product that is made from certain crops. A lot of produce that is grown and harvested gets completely wasted if it doesn’t look pristine enough, whether it’s sold at a large chain grocery store or a local farmer’s market. Even when it does get sold, it may go rotten or unused before it gets eaten. Some crops that are grown may only have a part of it used for a product, and the rest is thrown away. The Department of Agriculture in the United States estimates that up to 40% of all produce that is grown goes wasted due to issues like this.

Thankfully, this doesn’t seem to be the case with hemp. CBD is only one kind of product that comes from hemp plants. The fibers leftover are used to make rope and textiles, and the seeds are used for their omega fatty acids and other supplemental benefits. The result is that very little of a hemp plant that is grown goes to waste. 

Hemp also has a longer shelf life than most produce, and can be reused and recycled with greater efficiency. It is completely biodegradable, so it does not harm the environment by sitting around. In addition, hemp has a very efficient carbon sequestration process which refers to the capturing and purification of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Hemp, as mentioned above, captures carbon from the air and purifies it via photosynthesis. That carbon is then either removed by being contained in the hemp that is turned into various products, or returned to the soil with other nutrients through biosequestration. In essence, it can become its own fertilizer. 

In the end, there are some limitations for the environmental sustainability of mass-grown hemp that cannot be overcome. It will always require the use of a lot of land and water, as well as fossil fuels used by industrial harvesting and distribution machinery. However, relative to most other mass-grown crops, hemp has many advantages for being more friendly to the environment. That’s good news for the future of the industry, as it is set to increase eight-fold in less than a decade.