Polyethylene, abbreviated PE, in the most used plastic today, it is primarily used for packaging (see what is smart packaging). PE is made from ethylene (colorless flammable gas), which can be produced from renewable sources, but it is mostly obtained from fossil fuels like petroleum or natural gas.
PE is recyclable, but because of the sheer amounts produced, most of it doesn’t get recycled. Recycling plastics has several barriers. Many people don’t know how or where to correctly dispose of plastics. It might seem like recycling is widespread, but most of the plastics end up in landfills or worst in nature and oceans.
PE is not readily biodegradable, and therefore it accumulates in landfills. When it is exposed to solar radiation, it produces methane and ethylene, two of the greenhouse gases.
The Brazilian company Braskem developed a bio-based alternative to fossil-fuel-based PE. They are producing bio-PE, or Green PE called I’m green™ Polyethylene.
I’m green™ Polyethylene is made of renewable resources, concretely sugar cane, instead of fossil fuels. This bioplastic was recently recognized by the UN as one of the most transformational cases in sustainable development in Brazil, in the Industry & Energy category (1). They announced this recognition on May 26, in a public webinar organized by ECLAC and the Global Compact Network Brazil.
In September of 2010, after years of research and development, Braskem commissioned a green ethylene plant and started I’m green™ Polyethylene production. They have an annual capacity of 200.000 tons. Green PE is a drop-in biopolymer. It means it is similar, almost a copy of the fossil-fuel-based polymer. However, it is made from biomass. Drop-in bioplastics can be produced and used almost immediately in the same facilities without any major technology or equipment change or investments. Therefore, the implementation is cheap and easy (2).
As I’m green™ Polyethylene is produced from renewable sugar cane, it captures and fixes CO2 from the atmosphere during its production, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emission (3). Each ton of Green PE produced captures up to 3.09 tons of CO2, thus helping to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions (4).
As sugar cane is original to Brazil, the plantation has fewer environmental impacts as if it was produced in another part of the world. Moreover, the company only sources the sugarcane from local suppliers that meet the standards of sustainable production, as defined by Braskem in their Responsible Ethanol Sourcing. This document covers topics such as respect for biodiversity and good environmental practices (5). Most of the sugar cane produced in Brazil is produced at least 2500 kilometers away from the Amazon, ensuring that it does not threaten the biodiversity areas protected under Brazilian law.
The biobased I’m green™ Polyethylene has the same performance, properties, and versatility in use as conventional synthetic PE, and it can even be recycled in the existing chain of recycling plants for fossil-fuel-based PE. The company developed the portfolio of several High-density PE, Low-density PE, and Linear low-density PE types to meet all the production needs.