The use of sugar cane as a sustainable product for clean, renewable energy and for reducing the environmental impact on plastics pushes global demand to new heights each year. Sugar cane is an ideal solution to reducing carbon emissions because it consumes more carbon than is emitted during processing. This creates at the very the least a zero-carbon impact and in many cases causes a negative carbon effect on the environment.
This has led to a rise in demand for sugar cane–based ethanol and sugar cane-based plastics; also known as bio-plastics. One of the leading producers of sustainable sugar cane is Brazil.
Sustainable Sugar Cane From Brazil
Brazil has a thriving sugar cane industry. It is rich in farmland – with 9.5 million hectares dedicated to agriculture. 4.6 million of those farming hectares are devoted to the country’s sugar cane crops, which amounts to just 1.4% of the country’s total arable land.
One benefit from sugar cane production on this land is that the country has been able to replace almost 40% of its petrol consumption with clean and renewable ethanol. The impact of crops on local land and water is an important consideration for those wishing to be highly sustainable, and some environmentalists believe it is the treatment of farmland and water that determines the net sustainable effect.
Other factors that impact the sustainability of sugar cane include labour conditions and fuel consumption, as well as how crops are grown and harvested.
Certification and Sustainability
The Brazilian Sugar cane Industry Association (UNICA) is a member of the Board of BONSURO – The Better Sugarcane Initiative – which is a global not-for-profit initiative dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of sugar cane production. As a member, Brazil has agreed to accurately measure the impact of its sugar cane farming and report data as part of its certification process.
In the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Brazil’s commitment to transparency and continuous improvement have proven to be key components in the country’s sugar cane industry rating. In 2010 the GRI awarded Brazil an A+ rating – the highest qualification possible.
Compared to other countries, soil erosion of sugar cane fields in Brazil has been low. Sugar cane is highly sustainable because it typically only needs to be replanted once every six years.
In addition to the natural sustainable attributes of the plant, farming practices in Brazil add to its sustainability. In Brazil, farmers use several strategic elements to produce about 85 tonnes of product per hectare. These sustainable strategies include:
- Non-till production systems
- Crop rotation with soybeans or peanuts
- Green fertilization by planting cover crops
- Use of leftover sugar cane straw for ground cover after mechanised harvesting
Minimal Water Use
Brazil has the perfect climate for sugar cane growth. In South-Central Brazil, sugar cane is not usually irrigated because there is more than enough rainfall in a typical year to raise the plants.
As water accounts for two-thirds of the sugar cane’s weight, the benefit of using natural rainwater to grow greatly increases the sustainability of sugar cane-based products.
This helps to reduce the amount of water used in the manufacturing process. In fact, Brazilian sugar cane mills have used 70% less water over the last 20 years than they did previously and this is another sustainability benefit. Additionally, nearly 95% of the water used by mills in Brazil is later treated and re-used in the industrial process. The goal of every mill is to eliminate water discharge entirely.
Brazil has very strict guidelines for its sugar cane labor force. Salaries for industry employees are among the highest in Brazil’s rural workforce; with one million workers employed in the sugar cane industry in Brazil. On average, sugar cane labor earns more than per capita than average per capita earning across the country.
Brazilian sugar cane workers are represented in collective bargaining negotiations regardless of the worker’s decision to join a labour union. By 2050, global population is expected to increase by about 2.5 billion. Global energy demands will double during this time and the world will rely heavily on sugar cane from Brazil and other sustainable providers even more than today.
We use sugar cane in the production of our Polyair™ product. It is the only 100% recyclable, carbon negative polythene currently available.
To learn about our techniques, products and services call us today on 0845 643 1601* or contact us online.