Conventional polyethylene is produced from fossil raw materials, such as oil or natural gas, and is found in many day-to-day products: food packaging, cosmetics, drinks, carrier bags, among others. Renewable plastic, also known as I'm green™ bio-based renewable polythene, is a plastic produced from a renewable raw material –ethanol from Brazilian sugar cane. I'm green™ bio-based polyethylene has the same characteristics as petrochemical polyethylene in terms of application, performance and, most importantly, recycling.
I’m green™ bio-based is the brand created by Braskem that identifies the products in its portfolio made from renewable sources. To identify products that have I’m green™ bio-based polyethylene in their composition and to help consumers recognise them, Braskem created the I’m green™ bio-based label.
The Renewable Ethylene plant is located at the Triunfo Petrochemical Complex, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in the southern region of Brazil. It was inaugurated in September 2010, and it was the first time that I’m green™ bio-based polyethylene was manufactured on an industrial scale. The plant's capacity is 260,000 tonnes/year, and its total investment is US$290 million.
Ethanol & Sugarcane
To produce 260,000 tonnes of I’m green™ bio-based polyethylene, equivalent to Braskem's total production capacity, approximately 84,500 hectares of sugar cane are needed, which represents approximately 0.025% of Brazil's total arable land. This calculation is based on the average productivity of sugar cane plantations and of ethanol plants in Brazil. One hectare produces approximately 82.5 tonnes of sugar cane, which can produce 7,200 litres of ethanol. With this volume of ethanol, Braskem produces 3 tonnes of renewable ethylene, generating around 3 tonnes of I’m green™ bio-based polyethylene.
Around 89%* of the sugar cane plantations used in the production of ethanol in Brazil are concentrated in the Centre-South region, mainly in the states of São Paulo, Goiás, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso do Sul, Paraná and Mato Grosso. The remaining 11% of sugar cane is concentrated mainly in the Northeast region of Brazil. The Centre-South region is located more than 2,500 km from the Amazon rainforest. The expansion of areas destined for sugar cane plantations is governed by the Sugar Cane Agroecological Zoning, approved in September 2009, and excludes, among other areas, the Amazon and Pantanal biomes. It should be emphasised that Braskem does not own any sugar cane plantations. The ethanol used in the manufacture of I’m green™ bio-based polyethylene is purchased from various suppliers selected in accordance with the Responsible Ethanol Purchasing Programme, which takes into account aspects related to compliance with Brazilian legislation, and respect for the environment as well as human rights.
*Source: Sugar Cane Industry Association (UNICA):
The Sugar Cane Agroecological Zoning is a study of the climate and soils of different regions in Brazil that has broken new ground by taking environmental, economic and social aspects into account in order to coordinate the sustainable expansion of sugar cane plantations and investments in the sector. The set of restrictions related to the environment, economy, society, climate risks and soil conditions conducted by ZAE Cana limits the expansion of sugar cane plantations to 7.5% of Brazil's land area (65.7 million hectares). The proposal presented by ZAE Cana was approved on 17/09/2009. In 2023, the plantation area will be 8.3 million hectares, according to the Brazilian National Supply Company (CONAB).
The main diseases that threaten plants are treated through biological control methods and genetic improvement programmes. As a result, the use of pesticides on sugar cane plantations in Brazil is low, and the use of fungicides is almost zero.
Bagasse is a co-product of the sugar and ethanol production process. Rich in cellulose, bagasse is used to fuel boilers and generate energy in place of gas or other non-renewable energy sources. That energy feeds the plant itself, which becomes energy self-sufficient, and when there is any excess, the energy is sent to the local electricity grid and sold to supply towns and cities.
The burning of sugar cane, which is carried out before manual harvesting, aims to make the activity of cutting sugar cane safer by burning its straw. However, the practice of burning has serious impacts on public health and the environment. It is necessary to eliminate the practice of sugar cane burning and implement a mechanised harvesting system.
The deadline for ending cane burning has been set in the Brazilian legislation (Federal Law No. 12.651/2012). Moreover, the São Paulo State Agribusiness Protocol was launched on a voluntary basis in 2007, setting more restrictive targets than the law itself. The plants that signed this protocol are committed to anticipating the cane burning deadlines established in the legislation. In mechanised areas, the deadline set is 2014 to 2021, while in areas considered difficult to mechanise using current technology, the deadline is 2017 to 2031. In 2022, around 99.2% of all ethanol produced in the state of São Paulo, Brazil's largest producing state, was harvested using mechanisation. In Braskem's Responsible Ethanol Purchasing Programme, we reinforce the ban on cane burning as established in federal legislation.
Braskem has a programme for purchasing ethanol from suppliers whose sugar cane plantations are grown in accordance with Brazilian legislation and the labour standards established by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), subject to periodic government inspections. Braskem has a Responsible Ethanol Purchasing Programme, which is part of the National Commitment to Social Assistance Programme.
Sugarcane & Ethanol vs. Food Production
Currently, Brazil has 330 million* hectares of arable land, of which 52% is used for livestock, 26% is idle land, and 22% is used for agriculture. Only 1.4%* of all arable land in Brazil is used for ethanol production, and ethanol consumption for the production of I’m green™ bio-based polyethylene represents around 1.7% of total ethanol production, or 0.02% of Brazil's arable land. The availability of land, combined with the possible intensification of livestock farming, makes Brazil a country with room for agricultural expansion. Even in a very optimistic scenario of growth in the production of chemicals from renewable sources, land use for the production of non-food products is likely to continue to represent a small percentage of the total land available. With specific regard to land management for sugar cane production, in the state of São Paulo, where 50%* of the country's sugar cane is grown, legumes are used to fix nitrogen in the soil during crop rotation. As a result, 15 to 20% of sugar cane producing areas are used to grow soya, beans and peanuts, supplying the food market. For more details, visit the website of the Sugar Cane Industry Association (UNICA) at *Source: IBGE, Conab and UNICA. Data compiled by ICONE and UNICA.
Resposible Ethanol Sourcing Programme
Since 2010, in line with the renewable products of the I’m green™ bio-based brand, Braskem developed the Responsible Ethanol Purchasing Programme (RESP), with the aim of ensuring the sustainability of its chain. In 2022, the Programme underwent a comprehensive review with the aim of bringing greater strength to the issues of climate change, biodiversity and human rights. The reformulation of the Programme was carried out in partnership with the Imaflora consultancy and is aligned with the Credibility Principles of the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance (ISEAL Alliance).
The Programme's basic principle is the continuous improvement of the production chain and respect for Brazilian regulations, and is inspired by the good practices described in protocols, certifications and benchmark programmes for the sector, such as Bonsucro.
The RESP covers topics such as: business integrity, environment, workers and communities, and the management of sugar cane suppliers. You can access the RESP and find out more by clicking on the link:
All new ethanol suppliers accept and sign our general Code of Conduct for third parties and go through a due diligence and third-party monitoring process that identifies, based on public sources, possible warning signs of (i) sanctions, (ii) lawsuits, (iii) media, or (iv) investigation by the Ministry of Labour on slave and child labour.
The RESP is audited annually by a third party. These audits are carried out on a sample basis, based on volume (80% of the volume for the year prior to the audit), but prioritising less mature suppliers (e.g. without Bonsucro certification, who submitted adaptation plans in previous years, etc.).
Our Responsible Ethanol Purchasing Programme has just been revised and the audit checklist has been improved to make it even stricter with regard to compliance requirements (employment contract, working hours, payment of wages, freedom of association, prohibition of discrimination, grievance mechanisms, training, prohibition of child labour, working conditions).
In addition to the aforementioned social criteria, which are audited on site, we also require our suppliers to have an established supplier management process, which seeks to safeguard our upstream value chain beyond tier 1 (sugar cane farms). We also monitor the implementation of such programmes in their value chain.
Bonsucro is the leading global sustainability and standards platform for sugar cane. With more than 270 members from over 50 countries, it aims to address critical challenges in the sugar cane sector and boost performance and impact through a system of sustainability standards. It covers all sugar cane products and derivatives – sugar, ethanol, molasses and bagasse in conventional and newer sectors of the market, from sugar and alcohol to biofuels and bioplastics.
*Source: Bonsucro ( )
The ISEAL Alliance represents the movement for credible and innovative sustainability standards. ISEAL's mission is to strengthen sustainability standards to benefit people and the environment.
*Source: ISEAL Alliance ( )