Five Plants & their Common By-Product Uses

Hemp, bamboo, coconut palm, rice, and sugar cane are five plants that have many things in common, including a great number of by-product uses. In fact, the industrial, by-product utilization potential for every one of these plants is tremendous. First, they are all renewable and ecologically sustainable resource crops that can greatly benefit local communities in many ways. They all grow easily, improve soils, and have few or no pests. All benefit the environment and attract wildlife and birds. They are traditionally important food sources, and have numerous other uses for feedstock, fiber, and building materials. All five are biodegradable. Sugar cane, rice, and bamboo are in the family of grasses.


The food uses alone of these five plants extend over the entire gamut of possibilities, and this also includes beverages and oils.  “Milks” can be made from rice, hemp, and coconut; rice milk and hemp milk have for years been on the market as replacements for dairy milk; coconut milk is used extensively in Asian soups and dishes. Highly nutritional seed oils are made from hemp, coconut, and rice bran. Sugar cane is a tall perennial that is the world’s largest crop; the global market for cane sugar—sucrose—is huge. Sugar cane produces 80% of the world’s market for sugar. Its sugar can also be fermented to make ethanol. As a matter of fact, with the increase in demand for ethanol as a fuel, all five plants are potential ethanol producers. And all of them have use, in one form or another, as animal feedstock.


All five crops are high in cellulose and silica, which translates to fiber, and that means strong fiber at that. Their fibers can be used in countless ways. To start, they can be what is called cottonized, that is, their fibers can be made uniform with cotton—or those of other plants, such as wool, flax, or silk—and thereby spun together with cotton for manufacturing the entire range of textiles and fabrics. Paper is made from hemp, rice, cane, and bamboo; hemp, in particular, makes the highest quality of papers. Because of their high cellulose content, they can be made into cellophane, the common food packaging material. Their fibers can also be used in making building and construction materials. Materials include fiberboard, pallets, alternative types of plywood, composites, flooring, paneling, insulation, roofing. Their high silica content makes for strong, reinforced concrete, such as we find with a product called “hempcrete.” They are all alternatives to wood, so they can save trees. Strong and elaborate scaffolding is made from coconut palm, hemp, and bamboo.


Another category of material where they can replace hydrocarbon-based products is geotextiles, which have many civil engineering applications for soil and land management. They are excellent raw materials for geotextiles, for such things as erosion control, ddshoreline boundaries, and water channeling. Coir, the natural fiber extracted from coconuts, is commonly used as a geotextile because of its sheer strength. And they all eventually decompose into humus, thereby enriching the soil.


Bioplastics are derived from renewable biomass sources, and are another replacement for fossil fuel sources. They are biodegradable. Hemp and sugar cane are two plants commonly used for manufacturing bioplastics. They are also a replacement for fiberglass.


There is no waste with these plants. Even the powder and particulate matter left over from the various manufacturing processes discussed can be pressed into fuel logs.


Individual profiles for each of these can be found as links under “By-Product Utilization” on