‘Green’ Plastic: What is it, and is it really carbon negative?

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‘Green’ plastic is made from polyethylene that is made from renewable materials rather than fossil fuels.

Braskem is a petrochemical maker based in Brazil. They make chemicals from oil and natural gases. These chemicals are used in various products such as plastics, solvents, and paints.

Braskem has also set up a ‘green’ initiative, where it uses sugarcane as raw material, and creates ‘I’m green’ building blocks for plastics.

How does that work? Sugarcane from various farmers is converted into ethanol in mills. The ethanol is used as a raw material to be dehydrated and made into ethylene, a building block to make polyethylene, which some plastic is made out of.

How is this green? The sugarcane in the fields suck up CO2 (carbon dioxide) from the air, and the biomass is also used to power mills. Ethanol is extracted from the sugarcane, and is then used by Braskem to make up the building blocks for some kinds of plastic. This plastic is biodegradable and recyclable.

Credit: Braskem

The alternate is to use fossil fuels to power the plants and this lets out carbon dioxide into the air. The building blocks to make the plastic are chemicals that cannot be easily broken down. This collects and poses a plastic problem.

Let’s take a step back. What is plastic made of?

Plastic is a polymer – a structure made of repeating blocks of components such as ethylene. One of the most common plastics is made of polyethylene, which is blocks of ethylene stacked up. This is recyclable, which regular plastic is not.

The best part? The company says that this product is carbon negative. The Carbon Trust has investigated this claim and agrees that for every tonne of ‘I’m green’ polyethylene produced, 3 tonnes of CO2 is sequestered or quenched from the environment! The Carbon Trust is a group that helps companies around the world reduce their carbon emissions and be more mindful about sustainability.

Lego has started making its plastic trees using this plastic, and some other consumer companies are using this in their products too.

Amazing! So why can’t everything that is plastic be made of this kind of ‘green’ plastic? Wouldn’t that help with our plastic problem?

Yes it would, but there are different kinds of polymers used in different plastics, depending on what the products are used for. We need to develop green alternatives for more than polyethylene.


Written by: Sunaina Murthy. Sunaina is a biotechnologist, writer, greedy reader, and amateur photographer.

 

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1 Comment
  1. Thank you for sharing so useful things in this form. Working as a engineer is everyday is learning….youre inputs are very valuable to me & my son.

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