Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sugarcane plastic? [UPDATE]


From the Associated Press:

P&G to use sugarcane-based plastic in packaging

(AP) – 1 day ago

CINCINNATI — Consumer products makers Procter & Gamble Co. said Thursday that it will use a plastic derived from sugarcane in the packaging of some of its products.

P&G said the material will be used for Pantene Pro-V, Covergirl, and Max Factor products.

The plastic is made from a process that converts sugarcane into high-density polyethylene. The company says it is 100 percent recyclable.

P&G plans to buy the plastic from the Brazilian company Braskem SA. The first products using the plastic will be sold next year.


Interesting. Sugarcane will take the place of petroleum, so a renewable resource will replace a nonrenewable one. But I have questions:

- Will it take more energy to convert sugarcane to plastic than it currently takes with petroleum?

- Won't this new HDPE plastic still contain phtalates, with all the same health risks as petroleum HDPE?

- Will sugarcane HDPE be recycled along with petroleum HDPE with existing curbside programs, or will it have to be collected and recycled separately?

I hate it when manufacturers say "please recycle" without telling consumers HOW.
___________________

August 18 UPDATE: Jenny from P&G Responds! See the original in comments to this post.

This is Jenny from P&G - I work on this project, and I saw your blog, so I thought I would answer your questions! If you have any more questions, feel free to email me and I'd be happy to chat.

- We've done a Life Cycle Assessment which shows it takes considerably less energy to make the sugarcane plastic than the current petroleum plastic. Also, the facilities which make the sugarcane ethanol run on energy produced from the sugarcane by-products (bagasse) i.e. renewable energy. In fact, they produce more energy than the use, so they return it to the grid in Brazil.

- The HDPE sugarcane plastic won't contain phtalates.

- Yes, the new sugarcane HDPE will be able to be recycled in existing curbside programs, as it can be recycled together with petroleum HDPE in current municipal recycling facilities - no sorting required. This is one of the things which makes the sugarcane plastic a good choice as a sustainable renewable plastic.

thanks for your interest,
Jenny

7 comments:

Lisa Sharp said...

What about the petroleum ingredients? To me this seems like more crap from P&G.

Jenny said...

Hi Juli,

This is Jenny from P&G - I work on this project, and I saw your blog, so I thought I would answer your questions! If you have any more questions, feel free to email me and I'd be happy to chat.

- We've done a Life Cycle Assessment which shows it takes considerably less energy to make the sugarcane plastic than the current petroleum plastic. Also, the facilities which make the sugarcane ethanol run on energy produced from the sugarcane by-products (bagasse) i.e. renewable energy. In fact, they produce more energy than the use, so they return it to the grid in Brazil.

- The HDPE sugarcane plastic won't contain phtalates.

- Yes, the new sugarcane HDPE will be able to be recycled in existing curbside programs, as it can be recycled together with petroleum HDPE in current municipal recycling facilities - no sorting required. This is one of the things which makes the sugarcane plastic a good choice as a sustainable renewable plastic.

thanks for your interest,
Jenny

Juli said...

Thank you for commenting Jenny! Maybe I should have said "I hate it when reporters don't ask follow up questions." :) It would have been nice to see this information in the original article, right?

I'm not a chemist- but read that phthalates are plasticizers, used to increase plastic's flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. Why does petroleum HDPE require phthalates, but not sugarcane HDPE? What is used instead?

Jenny said...

Hi Juli,
Ah yes - Associated Press did a short article based on our press release and missed that point out! Here's the full release: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/pg-announces-plan-to-use-innovative-sustainable-packaging-100524854.html

As for phthalates: I spoke to one of our technologists who said that they're typically not used in HDPE - they're more commonly used in PVC (particularly very flexible types). As this HDPE is being used for a solid bottle we don't need to use a chemical like this at all. So, short answer: they aren't used in petro HDPE, and they won't be in the new sugar based HDPE either.

thanks,
Jenny

Polythene Pam said...

Here are some key points - as I understand them.

Plastic is made from ethylene. Ethylene can be obtained from oil or ethanol. Ethanol is the result of fermentation of grown natural substances i.e. sugar cane.

Bio-derived polyethylene is chemically and physically identical to traditional polyethylene.

Merely because it is made from plants does not mean plant based plastics are more natural. Some plant based plastics do not biodegrade or rather, like oil based plastics, there are indications that they may biodegrade but very very slowly - we are talking decades at least - unless it has a degrading agent that helps the product break down into smaller pieces so that bacteria can do their thing more easily

They can be recycled.

There are indications that is it more ecological to produce in terms of Co emissions.

However that is discounting the environmental cost of producing millions of one use throwaway bottles, gathering them up and disposing / recycling them.

To conclude in my opinion - plastics whether oil or plant based are if used to make one use disposable items present us with a real environmental challenge.

Kathryn Grace said...

I'm curious how the sugar cane plantations affect the rain forest. Is/will more rain forest (be) cut down to clear for the sugar cane? What other environmental issues are at stake in converting huge tracts of land to sugar cane for one-use plastic containers? Is there another solution to the problem of one-use plastic containers? Or perhaps more importantly, do we really need products like shampoo?

polythenepam said...

well maybe we dont need shamppo which is basically soap and water in plastic bottles - there are solid shampoos on the market and I use soap amd whats wrong with a refill service? - check my blog for details on the above