For the first time, hemp paper is being produced in Colorado from seed to sheet. Loveland's Tree Free Hemp has been producing hemp paper since 2013, but until this year, it's been getting the fiber from other countries. Now the entire process is local.
"It's grown in Colorado, it's processed in Colorado, it's manufactured in Colorado, it's printed in Colorado. It's truly homegrown," says Morris Beegle, a former concert promoter now focused on promoting hemp through the Colorado Hemp Company, which he founded in 2012, and the NoCo Hemp Expo.
Beegle wants to unleash all the potential the hemp plant has to offer, since it is "the most complete and useful plant available to humankind," he says. He was convinced those uses included paper, so he formed Tree Free Hemp and kept fiddling with a formula to make the process local.
Today the plants are grown by hemp farmers in Sterling, then processed in Fort Lupton. The process takes the stalks and runs them through a counter-current reactor that separates the pulp, the lignins and the sugars. Each of those are used for different purposes; the pulp is mixed with recycled materials to make paper.
At first, Beegle explains, Tree Free Hemp made a couple of batches of hand sheets to make sure that the formula his team had created would work. Once they got the formulas down, they started production in earnest, creating upwards of 2,000 sheets that are about a foot and a half long and fourteen inches wide and can be divided.
"They're all handmade," Beegle says. "It's got specialty art purposes [like for watercolors]. We're doing custom hand-numbered posters for concerts."
But hemp deserves a starring role of its own. It's important to shine the light on the cool companies and the top thought leaders in the hemp business, Beegle says: "We've got to give them a platform to promote what they've done and try to get this industry moving."
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