Belgian manufacturer Ecover is developing sugar cane-based polyethylene for use in packaging. This renewable plastic has the potential to reduce the company’s environmental impact.
Over the last 30 years, Ecover has become a global leader in the production of environmentally-friendly cleaning products. It offers a range of goods which offer viable alternatives to traditional chemical-based cleaners currently on the market.
In addition to being at the forefront of the development of green cleaning products, Ecover has continued to find new ways to reduce its environmental impact. In 2008, the company commissioned a study of its overall carbon footprint. This found that, in some cases, Ecover’s packaging was having a greater impact than the products they contained. Prompted by these results, the company set out to find an alternative to conventional plastic packaging.
To help find a suitable renewable material, Ecover enlisted the help of Brazilian plastics manufacturer Braskem – the first company in the world to produce certified ‘green’ polyethylene (PE).
“We are investing more and more in product and process developments, where we assess every aspect of our business to see where we can implement a positive change,” says Tom Domen, Marketing Manager at Ecover. “Our packing is an obvious part of this. The venture with Braskem will have a considerable positive impact on our CO2 emissions.”
Through its collaboration with Braskem, Ecover has developed a method for producing environmentally-friendly plastics from sugar cane. PE derived from sugar cane is believed to emit 75% less greenhouse gases during its life span in comparison to conventionally produced plastics. This dramatic reduction in embedded carbon will help Ecover to minimise the ecological impact of its product packaging.
While eager to increase the development and production of this renewable plastic, Ecover is conscious of the potential negative environmental impacts of harvesting sugar cane for this purpose. The company has been careful to find the most suitable location to grow the crop, and has worked to ensure that it is cultivated and harvested in a sustainable way.
To avoid damaging rainforest areas, Ecover selected land in Sao Paolo, Brazil that was previously used by the coffee industry. Furthermore, the company is striving to ensure that it does not inadvertently damage the environment in which it is grown.
“We need to make sure that the amount of land we require will not grow drastically as our business expands,” says Mr Domen. To this end, Ecover is constantly improving the efficiency of the sugar plantation and has made efforts to increase the amount of recycled plastics used in its products.
Moreover, the company is investigating the possibility of exploiting other potential renewable sources for plastics – such as algae and food waste.
To ensure the sugar cane is produce in the most sustainable manner, Ecover and Braskem have made a number of innovations to increase efficiency. Instead of using the traditional practice of cutting the sugar cane by hand and burning off the residue, a mechanical harvesting system has been introduced. This system enables leftover leaves and stalks to be collected and used for energy generation. And Ecover is employing GPS technology to enable precise planting and fertilisation to achieve greater crop yields.
By the end of 2010, Ecover hopes to have produced 20 000 renewable and recyclable product bottles from sugar cane. In the short term from 2011 onwards, all of the Belgian company’s bottles will contain a minimum of 30% sugar-cane-based PE.
Ecover’s ultimate goal is to employ only plastics derived from renewable and/or recycled materials in its product packaging. By becoming the first cleaning product company to use green PE on a large scale, it hopes to go a long way towards achieving this aim.
‘Ecover to pioneer the use of sugar cane based materials to create more sustainable packaging!’ (Ecover press release):
To celebrate the company’s 30th year in business, Ecover recently held the 30 Under 30 Contest designed to showcase the next generation of environmental innovators. The competition was launched in September 2010, and culminated in a ceremony held in New York on 10 November 2010. The competition’s grand prize went to Ryan Arnold for his achievements in helping low-income families in Idaho, USA reduce their energy costs. Arnold was selected as the overall winner from a field of 30 finalists.
‘Green grand prize winner, Ryan Arnold, Is announced at Ecover’s 30 Under 30 celebration!’ (Ecover press release):