By Jean Lotus
Australian hemp pioneer Paul Benhaim might be considered a global hemp renaissance man. With broad and comprehensive knowledge of the plant’s many uses, Benhaim has created companies around hemp since 1993, from nutrition to medicine to industrial materials, including hemp plastic.
Benhaim is the author of nine books about hemp, including H.E.M.P. – Healthy Eating Made Possible, Growing Hemp For Profit, Building A House From Hemp, Hemp Body Care Guide, Hemp Plastic Industry and Modern Introduction To Hemp.
A British native, Benhaim started out following a youthful interest in plant-based nutrition by creating a hemp seed health food bar in Europe which offered an ideal ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. That bar quickly moved from a few thousand bars per year to multi-millions of hemp snack bars per year and is now sold under numerous labels throughout the world. Benhaim’s Hemp Foods Australia farms hemp and sells hemp seeds, oil and protein.
Starting in 1999, Benhaim spent almost two decades pushing for the Australian government to legalize hemp seed as food, he told Let’s Talk Hemp.
“I came to Brisbane to help a hemp company to do the food side of their business which I’d been successful with in the UK and Europe,” he said. In Europe, hemp foods had never been illegal, like they were in Australia.
“I thought it would take a year or two to change legislation to allow hemp foods, but it ended up taking 17 years of my life,” Benhaim laughed. “I don’t advise anyone to wait 17 years to change a piece of legislation, but it was a fun journey,” he added.
Benhaim’s most recent journey into the multifaceted uses of hemp is the Hemp Plastic Company, a bioplastic company that produces various hemp blends that can be used in existing machinery like injection molding, Benhaim said this week.
“I read in Jack Herer’s book [The Emperor Wears No Clothes] about Henry Ford making a hemp plastic car, and I love that story. I love the picture of him wielding an axe against the car and it bouncing back,” he said.
After a disappointing foray into an unsuccessful cellulose fiber company Benhaim got interested in plastics again when a new technology was introduced, he told Let’s Talk Hemp.
“A guy called Kevin came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a technology where we can use hemp and make plastics cheaper than regular plastics.’ And I was like, okay, you got my attention,” Benhaim said.” I said, ‘Great, I’m going to have to start another business.”
The crucial determinant was that the new composite worked well with standard machinery like injection molding and current processes used for petroleum-based plastics, he said.
Hemp waste material from other industries is used for the feedstock, Benhaim said.
“We can literally use any waste material from any hemp processing [which] exists in all parts of the industry, food, medicine, fiber. We prefer waste products because we like to create zero waste in any industry,” he added.
In 2017, Benhaim founded Sydney-based Elixinol Wellness Ltd., formerly Elixinol Global, a publicly traded (ASX: EXL, OTC: EXLLF) US$35 million international hemp and CBD wellness company.
“Elixinol is still my baby,” Benhaim said. “I’m still very passionate about both businesses.”
Like many CBD companies, Elixinol has had “a very challenging year or two,” Benhaim said. “But I’m very excited about my new CEO and the new team that we’ve put together to make a difference to people and planet.”
Human wellness and global humanity are the motivations that move Benhaim, he said. He’s even taken on an advisory role on the board of a medicinal mushroom company, he said.
“Mushrooms, particularly psychedelic mushrooms, really supported my openness and awareness of the fact that we are one to some degree one,” he said, calling himself a global hemisphere citizen.
“Being in harmony with nature has led to my continual evolvement of that understanding … I work with farmers. I work with politicians. I work with the multi-trillion dollar funds. I work with permaculture experts. All these people to me are the same, we are all connected.”
This article is excerpted from the Let’s Talk Hemp Podcast, Hemispheres — Trouble in the Trees, featuring host Morris Beegle’s interview with Paul Benhaim, founder of Elixinol Global and The Hemp Plastic Company.
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Jean Lotus is a Colorado-based award-winning journalist and hempreneur who writes about the American West and sustainable food and technologies.