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Sugarcane: an alternative to plastic packaging?

sugarcane packaging

We all love the taste of sugar, but it’s not just for consumption. Sugarcane “plastic” is the latest development in sugar use, used in packaging for drink bottles to cleaning products. A plant-based packaging alternative to plastic, it’s great to see that sugarcane is being adopted by a number of brands.

The process for making plant-based plastic from sugar cane is made up of pioneering technology. The first ‘crushing’ phase of processing releases the sugar juices which are used to create the sugar we know and love. The following ‘crushing’ phases break down the sugar cane further which is then used to create ethanol, a plant-based alcohol. The next part is where new technology comes in. The ethanol is turned in a plant-based ‘green’ polyethylene that has the same physical properties as conventional polyethylene made from oil. 

What are the benefits?

While sugarcane plastic isn’t biodegradable, it is 100 percent recyclable. Sugarcane also absorbs carbon dioxide. The fact that it absorbs one of our biggest pollutants makes it far superior to oil. Oil-based plastics require mining for oil, and this process releases carbon from the Earth’s soil, into our air. This process is a real kicker for climate change. The less we rely on oil-based products, the better.

One of the perks of growing sugarcane is its resilience. It can grow in the weakest of pastures and actually helps recover the soil. Sugarcane waste known as bagasse is also used to generate electricity that powers the ethanol production process. 

Sugarcane origins

With Brazil producing the majority of the world’s sugarcane supply, there is a strict government framework in place to make sure biodiversity is protected. The pastures where sugarcane is grown, are located between 2000-2500km away from the Amazon Rain Forest. This means that when the farmers burn-off the sugar cane leaves, which absorb the carbon dioxide, there is no impact on the crucial plant and wildlife within the Amazon.  

Brands using sugarcane

ecostore is one of the most well-known New Zealand brands to be utilise sugarcane plastic. ecostore says that they chose sugar plastic for a number of reasons. “It comes from a renewable source and it actually removes carbon from our atmosphere. Just like trees, as sugarcane grows it takes carbon out of the atmosphere.”

Since moving to sugar plastic in 2014, ecostore has saved 4,485 tonnes of carbon from being released into the air. Which is equal to driving a car from Cape Reinga to Bluff, 8,500 times. ecostore uses Australasia’s only factory for this processing, located in Auckland.

Hair Care brand, Beauty Dust Co. has recently launched a 2020 refresh of their Hydrate Shampoo and Conditioner. The brand focuses on clean ingredients that are nourishing and good for our scalps. Their products are free from ingredients like sulphates, parabens, palm oil, microbeads, and petrochemicals while being cruelty-free. 

This launch also sees Beauty Dust Co. utilising plant-based plastic in its packaging. The brand promises this will help with reducing their carbon footprint while they keep working on being completely friendly for our planet. 

The products don’t just stop with women-targeted brands either. U.K brand, Bulldog, claims to be the first men’s skincare brand in the world to use sugarcane in their packaging. The brand partnered with RPC M&H Plastics to make their partial sugarcane packaging come to life. RPC M&H Plastics Key Account Manager, Andrew Thomas says they’ve been working with Bulldog since 2006. “We supported them when they were very small, and they kindly showed that loyalty back to us as they’ve got bigger and bigger.”

Where do we go next?

This technology is definitely a step in the right direction. Innovations like this will hopefully help transition companies from using oil-based products to choosing ‘greener’ options.

If you want to find out more about how businesses can benefit from reducing their environmental impacts, read our article here.

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