BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) - Plastic - it's been a life-saver. From throw-away containers to shopping bags to water bottles, in some ways it's made life easier.
But it's also causing lots of concerns. Plastic grocery bags are being banned in states across the country with a bigger push for reusable bags. In India's capital, all forms of disposable plastic have been banned completely.
The plastic problem "poses a huge threat to our environment," according to Forbes.
Forbes says it's also a financial opportunity. The publication says fixing this problem opens up an $80-$120 billion per year industry.
One University at Buffalo student, Denver Mackintosh, says he has the solution.
Hemp as a problem solver
"I came across hemp and I'm just like, why isn't this being used?" Denver said. "It has 50,000 different uses. It can solve a lot of problems today and it's affordable."
The 24-year-old is the founder and CEO of Buffalo Hemp Co., a company dedicated to using hemp to create products that are traditionally plastic.
With a background in political science and legal studies, Denver was looking for problems to fix and came across plastic. After doing some research, he found an untapped market in hemp.
Denver says he first came across hemp concrete. Made with hemp fiber, limestone and water, hempcrete is not meant to replace concrete - you can't build a house on top of it - but it's a perfectly good substitute for building walls. It's rot proof, fire resistant and happens to be great for the environment.
"It's not toxic, it fossilizes overtime and it actually eats up CO2 emissions," said Denver. "So it's clean air all around your house and inside your house, and it self-insulates. So as it gets warmer the house gets cooler, as it gets colder the house can kind of heat itself as well."
Through research, Denver found houses, condos and apartment complexes are already being built with hemp in Europe and Canada. There's even a house in North Carolina made out of hemp concrete, he says.
"Part of our five year plan is to actually start building tiny homes with it, and then every house we build, we're going to be donating one to a homeless veteran."
Hemp as a movement
With more research and 50,000 uses, Denver found that hemp can also be used as a plastic replacement. Through research, Denver found that billions of dollars in taxpayer money go towards recycling and only less than six percent of all plastic collected actually gets recycled. The rest just ends up in a landfill.
So, Denver got to work. He got in touch with hemp growers in Colorado and Kentucky and a factory in Colorado Springs to begin manufacturing hemp products.
So far he has made things like flowerpots, trays and hempcrete. Within the next year he hopes to make more traditionally plastic items, like single-use utensils and pill bottles.
"We want to go after certain everyday, single-use plastic items that can be replaced with our plastic, and then get that out of oceans and landfills," said Denver. "I want to be working with like a Wegmans, a WholeFoods, getting this in there, replacing their plastic silverware and things like that with our hemp plastic utensils."
Denver is already working with people and companies around the globe. With India's capital banning disposable plastic, he has been contacted by one company there and hopes to get enough funding in the next couple of years to help the country as it transitions away from disposable plastic products.
Other companies here in the U.S. are also taking notice.
"A company in Colorado, they contacted us to do a soap dish for them made out of our plastic," said Denver. "I was just on the phone [recently] with a business out in Arizona, they want us to do a Frisbee for them."
He's even ready to roll out sunglasses this summer. Denver says multiple stores in California have already pre-ordered 500 units each.
If you're looking locally for Buffalo Hemp Co.'s products, check out stores that already sell other hemp products. The flower pots are sold at gardening hubs, like Mother Earth Hydroponics and Thompson Brothers Greenhouse.
"I want every one of these flower pots in every single big box store like a Lowes or a Home Depot. I want it in nurseries. I want people to know about it."
Hemp as a compromise
Denver is also very proud of the fact that Buffalo Hemp Co. is a "Made in America" company.
"We believe in American material, American manufacturing, American jobs, and we want to prop up a hemp marketplace supported by those two things: American manufacturing and American product."
While Denver wants to turn this into a movement to help the environment, he doesn't think it's the only thing that can benefit from the use of hemp. He says hemp can provide a compromise within the American government between those on the left who want to save the environment and those on the right who want to bring back American manufacturing jobs.
"I think hemp is a compromise. This product is environmentally friendly, it's made here, it's made with American farmers, it's manufactured by American manufacturing jobs. If businesses were given some sort of tax break or tax relief buying American made goods and environmentally friendly products, I think it would help get the transition going."
And if consumers demand an environmentally friendly plastic, Denver believes it will eventually dominate the market.
But it may take a little time to get everyone on board.
"I thought, you know, this is a home run, but it's harder selling people on hemp biodegradable plastic, because they're skeptical of it. People associate hemp with marijuana.
But hemp and marijuana are two different things. They're related, but hemp doesn't have THC, the component that gets a person high when they smoke marijuana. Hemp is strictly used for industrial purposes.
While it may take time to get the masses on board, Denver is confident in everything hemp can do and hopes everyone else will begin to see its benefits.
"Hemp also kills a lot of CO2, more than trees," Denver said. "So when you're growing this stuff you're helping the environment, you're creating jobs, and you're creating all sorts of different products, and we can do that made here in America."
Denver has big dreams for hemp. He hopes it can be the problem solver he envisions and the compromise he thinks the country needs.
"I don't think hemp is going to solve all of our problems, but I know it's the only thing that can."
If you're interested in buying products made by Buffalo Hemp Co., or want to learn more about the company or hemp, visit buffalohempmovement.com.