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Plastic made from sugarcane produced by Brazilian company Braskem is already used by more than 150 brands worldwide

O Boticário, Neutrox and Shiseido are among the cosmetics companies that use “green polyethylene” in their packaging.

Gustavo Sergi, director of renewable chemicals at Braskem

Gustavo Sergi, director of renewable chemicals at Braskem

Brazil is the world’s 4th largest producer of plastic waste. Disposing of 11 million tons of plastic every year, it ranks after only the US, China and India, according to a study published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in April. Brazil is also one of the countries with the lowest recycling rates for this type of waste, recycling little more than 1% of all plastic used.

The pollution that results from the incorrect disposal of plastic is a worldwide concern as plastic can take up to 100 years to decompose naturally, according to the WWF. However, the impact plastic has on the environment starts all the way back at the beginning, with the extraction of its raw materials and the subsequent production process, since most types of polyethylene are of fossil-fuel origin, stemming mainly from oil or gas.

Since 2007, Brazilian petrochemical company Braskem has been working on a more sustainable alternative, namely a type of plastic made from the ethanol obtained from sugarcane. “This green polyethylene is the first in the world to come from a renewable source,” says Gustavo Sergi, director of renewable chemicals at Braskem. “Its main feature is that it helps counteract the effect of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as it captures carbon monoxide in its production process.Company data shows that each ton of green polyethylene produced corresponds to over three tons of CO2 removed from the atmosphere.

The product patented by Braskem easily substitutes traditional plastic, meaning there is no need to invest in new conversion machinery. “Green polyethylene boasts the same technical properties, performance and versatility of applications as plastic made from fossil fuel,” explains Sergi. The solutions currently available can be divided into the categories of HDPE (high density polyethylene), LDPE (low density polyethylene), and LLDPE (linear low-density polyethylene), and can be used in all kinds of industry.

With a production capacity of 200,000 tons a year, the industrial green polyethylene plant production located in the Rio Grande do Sul state is already exporting its output to countries in South America, North America, Asia and Europe. “Over 150 brands from across the globe currently use this product in their plastic packaging,” says Sergi.

Examples of personal care and cosmetics companies that use Braskem’s green polyethylene include Brazilian companies O Boticário and Neutrox. Abroad, Sergi names Shiseido and BullDog - which focuses on male products - as using green polyethylene. “End consumers can identify green polyethylene through its accompanying ‘I’m green™’ label, which is only awarded to brands that use this renewable material in their packaging,” says Sergi.

Braskem is currently working on other sustainable solutions. “Our investments in research and innovation include partnerships with universities, research centers and private companies, with a main focus on technologies that yield products from renewable sources,” says Sergi. He adds that green polyethylene itself has also spawned other sustainable products. “When we were studying green polyethylene applications, we discovered, for instance, a family of EVA resins (a copolymer of ethylene and vinyl acetate), which is also produced from sugarcane, and can be used for making shoes, sporting goods, automotive components, in construction and more.

Sergi also highlights the beginning of operations at a pilot plant that is pioneering the production of monoethylene glycol (MEG) from sugar. This raw material is used in the textile industry and, most importantly, for manufacturing PET bottles. The expectations are huge – after all, every minute 1 million plastic bottles are sold in the world, according to a 2016 survey by Euromonitor.

Renata Martins

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