The properties of plastic bags are the same whether the raw material is fossil or bio-based. In many ways, you’re dealing with exactly the same bag. So yes, bags that have been made using recyclable sugarcane bioplastic are just as strong, just as water-repellant and just as easy to design as traditional plastic bags.
In this article, improvements in the sustainability of plastic bags are linked solely to the raw material used in the manufacture of the bags, just as this article is based on recyclable bioplastic bags. If you are curious about other types of bio bags, you can read more here.
A bio plastic example:
Here is where it gets a little technical. Plastic bags are made from polyethylene, the most commonly manufactured plastic type worldwide. This polyethylene plastic type has until recently always been based on fossil oil. But this is no longer the case.
Biotechnologies have evolved to the extent that we can now make bio-produced polyethylene from sugarcane.
The sugarcane is used to produce bioethanol, which is used to make biopolyethylene. Biopolyethylene is the type of plastic used to make recyclable bio bags. These recyclable bio bags can be recycled alongside fossil plastic bags and can be combined, meaning that a plastic bag can contain both fossil and bioplastics.
Bioplastic bags are a win for the environment
Based on the findings of a study from Braskem, it has been shown that compared with traditional fossil plastic production from oil, sugarcane bags save the atmosphere as much as 3 tonnes of CO2 equivalents per tonne of polyethylene. The environmental saving is therefore very real. This calculation is based on Brazilian conditions and Braskem’s I’m green™ PE material, which contributes to lower carbon emissions. The large calculation of course has a number of preconditions, including the condition that the remains of the sugarcane are used in biomass-fired power plants.
Even though the production of bio plastic bags has occasionally encountered resistance due to the fact that production requires the use of agricultural land, bioplastics are still the best alternative to oil, as the carbon dioxide emission savings are so significant.
A future replacement for fossil-based bags
The polyethylene plastic type is the same, regardless of which resource it originates from. This means that the plastic bags are just as robust whether the raw material comes from sugarcane or oil. In fact, the origin of the various polyethylenes can only be determined by a carbon 14 analysis.
At present, bioplastics are only slightly more expensive than the fossil alternative and the difference is expected to be marginal.
The manufacturing methods for bio-based polyethylene are under development and are expected within the near future to be more cost, resource, and environmentally effective through economy-of-scale. This typically means that the price will fall and reach a price level low enough to match fossil manufacturing methods.
Because yes, it is better to use a bio-based resource to produce plastic compared to a fossil-based resource. However, we must also bear in mind that the production of bioplastic uses farmland.
Braskem’s study shows, that it requires approximately 5 m2 of farmland to produce the amount of bioethanol needed to produce 1 kg of biopolyethylene.
At the moment, only recyclable bio-based plastic bags are made from first-generation bioethanol, which is based on sugarcane. But just as we expect the price will fall, we also expect that the production of bioplastic will evolve to using second generation bioethanol. Second generation bioethanol can be produced from agricultural waste such as straw and wood-shavings, so farmland is not used here.
The focus on climate and environmental alternatives is undergoing rapid development, and new initiatives in this area emerging all the time. At Scanlux Packaging, we stay up to date with such developments, and are constantly working to improve our products, making them more sustainable and environmentally-friendly.
This article is based on a study conducted by the Danish Technological Institute for Scanlux Packaging.
 CO2-eq is the conversion factor used to compare the impact of various greenhouse gasses on the greenhouse effect, allowing you to calculate how much CO2 is needed to create the same effect as a tonne of another gas.