Plastic is traditionally made from petroleum, but $19 billion Brazilian petrochemical giant Braskem is using its homeland's renewable resource instead: sugarcane. "We are offering a product that actually takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere," says Alexandre Elias, Braskem's director of renewable chemicals. The company converts sugarcane ethanol into ethylene, the hydrocarbon raw material that goes into plastic. The process reduces greenhouse gases by capturing up to two tons of carbon dioxide for each ton of green polyethylene produced.
Founded 10 years ago, Braskem has overhauled its product portfolio, responding to global demand for renewables. Because "green plastic" has the same physical and chemical characteristics as conventional plastic, it can be processed with the same machinery. It can also be recycled just like conventional plastic.
Braskem offers companies using its renewable plastic an "I'm Green" seal, currently found on products from 19 companies and 23 brands, including Johnson & Johnson, and Walmart. "We're providing an alternative for people looking to reduce their carbon footprint," says Alexandre Elias, the director of Braskem's Renewables Chemicals Division. Braskem produces 200,000 metric tons of green plastic per year, and it's investing to increase capacity. With 80 million tons of plastic produced annually around the world, there's plenty of oil-made plastic left to replace.
[Illustration by Mick Marston]