Polythene UK shows circular economy potential of bioplastics with carbon neutral polyethylene bags.
Polythene UK worked with the Carbon Trust to calculate the carbon footprint of plastic bags made from biopolyethylene. The Carbon Trust’s independent certification arm was then able to certify those bags to PAS2060, the internationally-recognised standard for certifying carbon neutrality. This is the first time a packaging product has been certified as carbon neutral by the Carbon Trust.
To manufacture carbon neutral polythene bags, Polythene UK uses biopolyethylene produced by Brazilian chemicals giant, Braskem. This is made from sugar cane, which is processed into bioethanol and then turned into bioplastics. The energy for this process also comes from sugar cane residue, known as bagasse, which is used as a biofuel in a combined heat and power unit.
The amount of carbon dioxide taken from the atmosphere during the growing of the sugar cane is greater than the total emissions from the processing and transportation of raw materials to the UK, as well as energy used in manufacturing at Polythene UK supplier Polystar Plastic’s factory. This means that the bioplastic bags are carbon neutral at the point that they leave the factory gate.
Although today, bioplastics are slightly more expensive than alternatives made from fossil fuels, in terms of practical use the materials are identical and fully recyclable. It is estimated that in Europe the use of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) – the grade of plastic commonly used to make plastic bags – contributes over 11 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year. One tonne of conventional polyethylene results in approximately 2.6 tonnes of carbon emissions, whereas Polythene UK’s equivalent biopolyethylene is carbon neutral.
Plastics are hugely important materials in the global economy. But typically they are made using fossil fuels, both as a raw material and a source of energy. In order to deal with climate change we will need to reduce fossil fuel dependence and recognise the true cost of carbon. This means that bioplastics are going to become increasingly important, and Polythene UK are working to advance this transition to a market for more sustainable materials. Bioplastics are also compatible with the move to a more circular economy, as they are both made from renewable resources and are recyclable.
Darran Messem, Managing Director – Certification, The Carbon Trust
Our plastic bags are often used by clients to protect their products from becoming damaged, which in itself helps to prevent waste and the associated carbon emissions that come from this. Despite this, we recognise that as a business we need to play a role in the transition to a low carbon economy by doing what we can to reduce the carbon emissions associated with our own core products. By working with the Carbon Trust to better understand the lifecycle impacts of our biopolyethylene bags we can be confident that they are in fact carbon neutral, which helps us to provide our clients with a more sustainable product.
James Woollard, Managing Director, Polythene UK
 Carbon Trust analysis based on data from PlasticsEurope and the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).