Solving The Agricultural Waste Of The Jamaican Hemp Industry

My name is Skylar Hamilton. I’m a Jamaican creative practitioner with an interest in social change and empathetic design. I’ve always been a material-driven designer – even as a teenager, using Jamaican wicker to make a hand-woven bra and corset. I often use waste as my material of choice, encouraging others to innovate with what they have at home – or can grow!

This project started with a headline in the Jamaican newspaper reading, : “Gov’t urging more persons to enter Hemp Industry.”

This inspired me to reach out to the local farmers of Virtudes Hemp farm who told me that they only use the seeds and flowers that grow at the top of the 15ft tall plant. The rest of the stalk is disposed of, an expensive and laborious task for the farmers. As a material driven designer, I asked myself what could be done with the hemp stalk.

In a world largely dependent on finite fossil fuels and rapidly obsolete consumer goods, it is becoming increasingly urgent that we develop sustainable alternatives. This project proposes to make a sustainable alternative using the hemp stalk.

The production of these hemp-derived materials propose a low tech, locally produced approach, not only promoting the utilisation of agricultural left-overs but also the creation of micro-economies.

Below I have a proposal for how I would work alongside the farmers to create the material. I call it : “An Economy Run Like an Ecosystem” because we need to work together to build strong systems.

This project is about promoting local production. One message I want it to communicate is that less is sometimes more. The fact that we import significantly more than we export shows that we don’t see our resources as valuable. Jamaica imports over 1.8M USD worth of goods per year. We don’t need to import everything ; we’re known worldwide as creative people. Let’s use what we have.

I want to empower Jamaicans to put their culture first and validate our knowledge of the land as a form of intelligence. Go to Jamaica once and you’ll see how the western world is glamorised by society. The British and Spanish came to our land for a reason. It’s full of resources and solutions just waiting to be uncovered. We just have to believe that they’re there. Stop imitating and start innovating.

The final material I created is a mixture of Hemp and Agar, a gelatin derived from seaweed, that had been cured over a few days. The whole project took around 8-10 weeks, so I would say I worked on material testing for around 3-4 weeks, making around 30 plus material samples. I started the project by combining gelatin with hemp and then resin with hemp and then finally made an agar-hemp material that I felt was strong.

I dyed this final material with natural hibiscus flowers as well as turmeric to test potential colourways.

Not only did I try different recipes. I also tried different production methods. Could it be used as a replacement to plastic in a 3d printer? Could it be piped? Could it be compressed?

Below, I compressed the mixture into a bowl shape, using a compression mould I 3D printed. This proved that the material could be pressed into different forms.

The final material I produced was lightweight, porous and simply, beautiful. The material naturally cures into an off-white colour with a crumbly texture. It’s strong but degrades in water over time.

I asked people at my exhibition what they would suggest the material could be used for. Some of the answers included a sustainable alternative for styrofoam, biodegradable food packaging, and insulation.

Further experimentation and research will only reveal its potential. Hemp has been used to make roof tiles, cement, batteries and even fuel cars in the past so I’m excited to see what this material will take to.

Mother Nature is so incredible. She provides everything we could possibly need. I hope we can learn to work with her and not against her. I’m curious to see what other materials local agriculture can be used to make and I encourage others to test and see!

Writing by Skylar Hamilton@Skylarhamilton.