Plastic. It’s been the buzzword at the heart of waste reduction strategies for years, with regulations around the world working to reduce production, use and disposal of the material in both domestic and industrial settings. As well as limiting the amount of plastic we produce, there has arisen a new demand – to change the way we produce it. This need has been accelerated by the EU’s sales ban on single-use plastics announced in July this year, pushing manufacturers to find sustainable alternatives.
While plastics are traditionally derived from fossil fuel-based materials such as oil or natural gas, a new market for bio-based products has emerged. In comparison to their traditional petroleum-based counterparts, biobased products, which are derived from organic materials that are available on a renewable basis, have been gaining increased industry interest in recent years. Intended to facilitate the circular economy, these products are often made from materials such as sugarcane, corn, or cellulose. While they may seem something of a golden ticket to our plastic problem, concerns have been raised over whether these solutions are truly best for our environment. Companies have therefore been working hard to not only produce these alternatives but to demonstrate their environmental benefit.
Bio-based companies know their supply chain partners such as Allbirds and Unilever are demanding bio-material materials, so they are investing more in developing their own products – even during this challenging Covid period. Brazil-based biopolymer specialist Braskem is one company that has benefited from this renewed sustainability interest and it has recently announced that it will be beefing up investment in its bio-based products derived from sugarcane.
Bio-based Testing For Renewable Plastics
Renewable material can play a vital role in the global transition toward sustainable plastic and packaging. In areas such as Brazil, sugarcane production is booming, serving as a viable alternative to conventional plastic material. By substituting fossil fuel-derived plastics with renewable (biomass) sourced ingredients, the process to produce this novel plastic captures more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits, contributing to reducing the carbon footprint of the entire value chain.
Companies such as Braskem, a producer of thermoplastic resins, biopolymers, and polypropylene, are driving this trend, prioritizing bio-based plastics derived from biomass resources. Through the use of carbon-14 analysis, Braskem has validated the composition of its I’m greenTM Polyethylene as up to 100% bio-based, offering companies within several different industries a sustainable plastic alternative.
Renewable raw material
By choosing bio-based plastic instead of fossil fuel plastic, companies are able to reduce their carbon footprint. Their claims can be verified by peer-reviewed LCA’s (Life Cycle Assessment) and third party audited certifications. Concerns regarding the impacts of mainstream plastic and packaging on the environment resonate with manufacturers, suppliers, and consumers. As a result, these stakeholders are opting for bio-based plastics and bio-packaging derived from renewable raw material. The global bioplastics market is expected to experience growth over the upcoming years. The global bioplastics production capacity is forecasted to increase from approximately 2.1 million tonnes in 2020 to about 2.8 million tonnes in 2025, representing a market growth of 36% over a five year time period.1
Sugarcane has been used on a large-scale for the production of renewable energy and sustainable products.2 It has been used substantially as feedstock for the production of ethanol, which plays a vital role in several industries, for example as a key component of biofuel blends and as a major ingredient in bioplastic material and sustainable packaging.3 Braskem’s development of its I’m greenTM Polyethylene relies on sugarcane ethanol, serving as an environmental-friendly plastic and packaging option, in many cases yielding a net-zero carbon footprint.4
Carbon-14 to validate 100% biobased material
To validate the composition of bio-based material such as Braskem’s I’m greenTM Polyethylene, carbon-14 testing is performed according to ASTM D6866, a standardized method for determining the bio-based content of solid, liquid, and gaseous samples.5
This method uses an accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) instrument to measure the amount of carbon-14 content in a given sample since carbon-14 is present in all living organisms derived from biomass and renewable resources, yet is absent in fossil fuel-derived material. Depending on the amount of carbon-14 present, the result indicates the percentage of a material that is sourced from biomass-derived content versus petrochemical-derived content. The result is reported as % biobased content, ranging from 0% to 100%. Therefore, a result of 0% biobased content means a sample only contains fossil fuel components whereas a result of 100% biobased content indicates a sample is fully derived from biomass resources. A sample that is a blend of both fossil fuel and biomass constituents would yield a result that is somewhere between 0% and 100% biobased content.6
I’m greenTM Polyethylene & I’m green™ EVA
Polyethylene is conventionally produced from fossil raw materials such as oil or natural gas, and is found in many everyday products: packaging for food, cosmetics, beverage, and bags, among many others. Bio-based plastic, also known as I’m green™ Polyethylene, is a plastic made from a renewable raw material: Brazilian sugarcane.7 The I’m green™ Polyethylene exhibits the same characteristics as the petrochemical polyethylene, in application, performance, and especially recycling. With the purpose of developing sustainable solutions, the I’m green™ Polyethylene appears as a material with a negative carbon footprint which has a huge potential contribution for a low carbon economy.
I’m green™ is Braskem’s flagship brand, known for its fully segregated bio-based polyethylene (bio-PE) made from sugarcane. Since 2010, Braskem has been sourcing from the Centre South Region of Brazil, and is recognized as the global leader in bio-based drop-in plastics.
I’m green™ Polyethylene is a versatile plastic and can be present in various day-to-day products. Through I’m green™ Polyethylene it is possible to produce materials by using the same processing steps as conventional plastics: injection and blow molding, blown film, cast film, fiber, profile extrusion and rotomolding. Currently, there are 30+ I’m green™ Polyethylene grades available, distributed among families of high density polyethylene (HDPE), linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE), and low density polyethylene (LDPE).8
Furthermore, I’m green™ EVA is a plastic made from a renewable raw material: Brazilian sugarcane.9 The resin helps to reduce greenhouse gases in the air by capturing and storing CO2 during its production process. The I’m green™ EVA exhibits characteristics such as flexibility, lightness and resistance, and it is designed for foamed applications such as shoe soles, Yoga matts, and several other products.
I’m greenTM certification process
In order for a client to receive the I’m greenTM label, the minimum renewable content must be 51%. For this, Braskem requests a carbon-14 analysis and after that, the guidelines for the logo usage as well as the logos themselves will be shared with the client. Prior to launching their product with the final design, the artwork using the I’m greenTM logo runs through an approval process by Braskem to ensure the logo has been correctly used in the artwork and follows the guidelines.
As forward-thinking and sustainability-driven initiatives progress, developments of renewable plastics have entered the market. Bio Market Insights will be bringing you the latest innovations and further deep-dive profiles from industry leaders such as Braskem, as they continue to play a key role in the transition from production of conventional to bio-based plastics instead. In order to verify the percentage of bio-based content present in material such as Braskem’s I’m greenTM Polyethylene, carbon-14 analysis is employed. This offers companies throughout many different sectors a biomass-derived plastic alternative to use for product formulation.
Haley Gershon, Marketing Manager, Beta Analytic, www.betalabservices.com
Maite Lazo, Marketing & Communications – Europe & Asia, Braskem, https://www.braskem.com.br/
Bio Market Insights editorial team