The farm bill has breathed fresh life into Elixinol CEO Paul Benhaim’s dream that once failed in the early 2000s: To create biodegradable bioplastics derived from hemp waste in order to eliminate traditional plastics derived from fossil fuels. Benhaim spent more than 20 years building hemp-focused startups — everything from a successful hemp nutritional snack bar in the UK to the CBD products his Australia-based company is now known for.
Benhaim told Yahoo Finance his last foray into hemp plastics failed because hemp production was so small. That’s now changed as hemp production has grown and is projected to increase substantially with the farm bill’s passage.
“To be truly cost effective with bioplastics, it’s all about being close to production,” he said. “So with the farm bill and people growing hemp in the U.S. there will be more biomass available and we can use the waste product for whatever they are growing hemp for.”
Hemp waste turned plastic
In the case of Elixinol and its competitors, hemp is being grown and harvested to extract CBD for creams, tinctures, supplements, and even beverages. The leftovers from that production in the form of hemp biomass had in some cases been exported as stock feed to Asia since it wasn’t allowed to be used for much under U.S. law. Now, Benhaim plans to use the waste to form the four new hemp plastic polymers his startup, the Hemp Plastic Company, plans to roll out in January.
“There’s no one doing this quite on the scale that we’re preparing for,” he said.
Ironically, this wasn’t Benhaim’s idea. Despite launching one of the most successful CBD companies on the market and fully understanding the use case for hemp waste, there were pieces he hadn’t solved for in the bioplastic production process that were needed to make hemp plastics cost comparable with petroleum alternatives. Even though he hadn’t solved for those improvements, he had still maintained ownership of the domain name, “HempPlastic.com,” from his failed plastics venture.
It was an inquiry back in 2017 to buy Benhaim’s domain that would bring Kevin Tubbs, an Alaska-based packaging company owner and hemp enthusiast, into the fold.
“He fit in a number of pieces that fixed the issues I had always seen — how to use existing equipment and how to make it cost effective,” Benhaim said. “He showed me a way, a path to making hemp plastics cheaper than petrol chemical plastics.”