Stems and Seeds
After decades of being confused with its outlaw cousin, marijuana, industrial hemp (which contains no narcotics and won’t get you high, no matter how much you smoke) is making a comeback. While it’s still illegal to grow the crop without a permit in the United States, Stemergy—a global supplier of renewable biofiber products in Ontario, Canada—has developed many applications for hemp fibers, including high-tech composites and consumer products such as garden mulch and animal bedding.
The beauty of biofiber lies in its versatility. "Hemp is high in performance and low in cost," Stemergy president Geof Kime says. It’s also a rapidly renewable plant source of valuable materials, and it requires few or no pesticides to cultivate. Stemergy, which uses only Canadian-grown hemp, supplies biofibers to companies that make compression-molded panels for constructing doors, cabinets, furniture, wall partitions and decking.
"We’re combining hemp and flax fiber with materials such as wood, concrete and plastics to make new composite substances," Kime says. Biofibers can reinforce and fill stucco and concrete, and biofiber insulation may become the next big eco-product. Chrysler, Mercedes and Ford automobiles already feature molded interior parts made from hemp fiber.
"Biofiber technology sounds quite promising for many building components," says Brian Dunbar, executive director of the Institute for the Built Environment at Colorado State University. For information, click here.
Thinking Out of the Box
Even the most diligent people can find themselves stuck with piles of wasteful packaging: cardboard, paper, Styrofoam and plastic wrap. Tom Ballhatchet, a London-based designer, has come up with a prototype for a stunningly simple solution.
His television stand is a foam casing that protects the TV and makes it easier to cart indoors. It converts into a self-contained entertainment unit, complete with built-in cable management system. The expanded polypropylene stand could conceivably be molded into any shape or color.
"Polypropylene is fine from both health and ecological standpoints," says Mary Cordaro, president of the California-based healthy-home consultancy H3Environmental. "Polypropylene is one of the less-toxic plastics out there, and it’s generally recyclable."
Ballhatchet, who’s currently presenting his idea at industry trade shows, says the expanded polypropylene he used in his prototype product is inert and nontoxic, even if burned. For more information, click here.