20


Review

Bioregional Fibres, the potential for a sustainable regional paper and textile industry based on flax and hemp.


        By S. Riddlestone, P. Desai, M. Evans and A. Skyring.  Bioregional Development Group, Sutton Ecology Centre, Honeywood Walk, SM5 3NX Carshalton, Surrey, UK. 33, 130 pp.

        This report, printed on hemp-straw-recycled paper, is a study of the feasibility of reviving the cultivation and processing of flax and hemp as a sustainable industry in south-east England.
        The first section of the report provides the background of the study.  It explains why the authors think that local production for local needs is required for a sustainable society.  The environmental and social problems accompanying the growing of cotton and the need for alternatives to cotton are summarized; the link between paper use and the disappearance of ancient forests is outlined.
        The second section starts with an interesting overview of the history of flax and hemp, followed by a review of cultivation and processing of flax and hemp in the 1990s, with particular emphasis on the situation in the European Union.  It discusses textile and paper markets in the UK and evaluates the potential of flax and hemp as sustainable alternatives to cotton and wood.
        Section three provides details of the expertise and technology available and under development for processing hemp and flax into textiles and paper.  It goes into the details of fibre extraction and pulping technologies.   The environmental and economic implications of the technologies are discussed.
        Sections four and five summarize the main points from the previous sections, build models for a bioregional fibre industry in south-east England and present conclusions and recommendations.
        This study makes very interesting reading for all those interested in fibre hemp.  It is well written, well documented and very quantitative.  The attitude and approach of this study is nicely illustrated by the following citation from Section II.8, entitled: 'Current and potential uses and markets for hemp': "Much of the information promoted in favour of the revival of hemp comes from the lobby for the legalisation of Cannabis as a recreational drug.   Some of these sources are quoted in this section, but our own experience has suggested that in certain instances the case for hemp is overstated.  The facts will have to be verified in the field.  Nonetheless, hemp is a truly remarkable plant with a myriad of potential uses."
        For both flax and hemp the study advocates whole crop utilisation.  The highest value line fibre should be processed into textiles, the lower value short fibres (tow) should be pulped to produce high quality paper.  The woody core (hurds) can be used for paper, composite boards or heat generation.  The study points out that currently, there is no hemp textile industry in western Europe.  If hemp is to be revived for textile use, considerable investment in machinery would be required.
        In conclusion, this study provides a realistic assesment of the role fibre hemp may play in a more sustainable society.  It indicates the potential of the crop, as well as some problems to be resolved.  All in all, this publication seems very much worthwhile for those seriously interested in the topic.  HvdW.


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