Q&A on sugar plastic: solving the mystery

Q&A on sugar plastic: solving the mystery

Across the ecostore range, our plastic bottles now contain a mix of Sugar Plastic – a renewable, recyclable plastic that captures CO2 as it grows – and locally-sourced recycled plastic. Using plastic made from sugar instead of petrochemicals lets us capture CO2 from the atmosphere rather than releasing it while incorporating recycled content helps keep this valuable material in the loop and reduces the need to create new plastic. This mix creates durable bottles, uses less energy and resources, and cuts down on the amount of plastic in our environment.

It is likely that this concept is unfamiliar to you, and there is a lot of confusion floating around in the news and media regarding plastic packaging and its effects on the environment. We, therefore, feel the need to prepare a list of 10 major questions and answers to help you better understand it.


1. How does sugarcane capture carbon and reduce your carbon footprint?

Plants take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through small pores in their leaves. They need carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, which leads to the production of sugars, and eventually more complex molecules for use by the plant in growth and metabolism. The carbon dioxide captured during the sugarcane cultivation process (from sugarcane growth until its production) remains stored during the plastic’s entire life cycle (as long as it is not incinerated). Every kg of sugar plastic captures and stores approximately 2kg CO2 from the atmosphere.


2. Are sugar plastic bottles 100% recyclable?

Yes, in the right facilities. Sugarcane-based HDPE (high-density polyethylene) is physically and chemically identical to traditional petrochemical plastic. This means it can be recycled in the same chain used for recycling traditional HDPE (recycling label #2) – unlike other bio-based plastics, which can’t be recycled this way. Across the ecostore range, we’re now incorporating PCR recycled plastic into our bottles – which is 100% recyclable and can be recycled in Hong Kong with contractors with this expertise. 


3.  Is it biodegradable?

No, it is not biodegradable or compostable. Current technology requires biodegradable plastic to go through a commercial composting facility. This is not readily available in Australasia, so as a result biodegradable plastic ends up contaminating recycling streams or ends up in landfills where it is slow to biodegrade so less than ideal. Like plastics made from petrochemicals, sugar plastic is a recyclable material and in fact, can be recycled normally using the facilities we already have. If our sugar plastic bottles biodegrade or are incinerated, the captured carbon dioxide would be released back into the atmosphere and then be carbon neutral. The fact that it is recyclable is a benefit as it reduces carbon emissions.


4. Why is sugar plastic so important?

Sugar plastic reduces the need for fossil fuels. Polyethylene (plastic) is conventionally produced from raw materials such as oil or natural gas, which are non-renewable, as they are derived from pre-historic fossils and are no longer readily available once used. The extraction processes used to obtain fossil fuels are associated with many negative environmental impacts including risks of oil spills, destruction of wide areas of land, and resulting ecological imbalance.


5. What % of the bottle comes from sugarcane?

Around 92% of each bottle (the exact amount varies depending on the product categories)  is made from renewable sugar plastic. Sugar plastic is made only from sugarcane (ethanol) suppliers certified by Bonsucro which is a global non-profit organisation dedicated to reducing the environmental and social impacts of sugarcane production while recognising the need for economic viability. All of our bottles now contain a mix of recycled and sugar plastic. This currently, excludes our caps, lip balm tubes, and our bulk containers which are made from standard HDPE plastic. We are working on changing these as well but first wanted to focus on the majority of our packaging to make the biggest difference.


6. Where does the sugarcane come from?

90% of sugarcane cultivation and harvesting in Brazil is concentrated in the South-Central region of Brazil, which is located more than 2500km from the Amazon rainforest. The expansion of planted areas is regulated by the Sugarcane Agro-ecological Zoning Policy, a regulatory framework implemented in 2009 by the federal government that prohibits planting in areas with high levels of biodiversity, including among other areas, the Amazon, Pantanal biomes, indigenous lands, and environmentally protected lands.


7. Why do you use plastic bottles but not glass packaging?

While it wasn’t an easy decision, we chose not to use glass for sustainability reasons: glass is very heavy to ship (which uses more fuel) and usually requires extra packaging for safety (increasing its carbon footprint with the extra resources used). Another factor is that glass is fragile and breakable, risking consumer safety and wastage from product spills. 

Here at ecostore, we endeavour to make our packaging sustainable, user-friendly, safe, and stylish. This can be a challenge. Currently, our bottles are made from a mix of renewable sugar plastic and recycled plastic (which is 100% recyclable) – this is already a much more sustainable alternative to virgin plastics made from fossil fuels. Additionally, we offer bulk products, refills, and returns to improve the sustainability of our products as a whole. We believe that sugar plastic is currently the most responsible choice for packaging our products, and consider it a stepping stone towards even more sustainable packaging in the future. As early adopters of the renewable plastics innovation (starting in 2014), we are proud to inspire more businesses to embrace more sustainable materials and practices.


8. Can recycled plastics be recycled over and over?

There’s often a finite number of times materials can be recycled before they have to go to a landfill. The polymers that make up the different types of plastic can get cross-contaminated, or absorb particles from the substance they contain. Recyclable plastics can usually be recycled 7-9 times, while aluminum, glass, and steel can be recycled forever as these materials don’t lose integrity during recycling.


9. What is the proper way to dispose of these bottles? How can it be done without harming the environment, or at least minimizing the impact?

We encourage you to reuse them as many times as possible through refill, or return them to us for recycling – these are the two best ways to minimize impact. We know that the challenges of plastic need more than one solution. That’s why, along with using Sugar Plastic, recycled plastic, and bulk options, we’ve worked hard to make refilling a more convenient option. Currently, we have 20 refill locations in Hong Kong and Macau for you to refill your favourite ecostore products and 13 locations for bottle return –  thanks to the valuable support from our retailers. Drop off your clean and dry sugar plastic bottles and we will ship them back to our Auckland factory by sea (for minimum carbon footprint). Once they arrive at our facility, we will then work on giving them a second life by remaking them into new ecostore bottles.


10. What happens over time if ecostore bottles end up in landfills in Hong Kong? Do they break down into microplastics? Approximately how long would it take for the sugar-plastic bottles to degrade completely?

The time any material, including plastic, takes to biodegrade in a landfill will vary by landfill conditions, such as exposure to oxygen, UV light, and the weight of other items in the landfill, as well as the size, weight, and thickness of the item. It is very difficult to estimate the time to break down due to the variables at play but it will be multiple years. It is worth noting that plastics do break down into microplastics and landfill space in Hong Kong is extremely limited. Incineration releases captured carbon into the atmosphere and is not an ideal solution. This is why we encourage the use of refill stations (for reusing bottles) and/or returning clean and empty bottles to our return stations.

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