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Sugarcane – A Remarkable Economic and Environmental Resource

Sugarcane is a remarkable resource. Progressive and innovative countries are squeezing commercial value out of sugarcane every way they can. For example Mauritius has developed, under EU funding, a methodology to produce bio-plastic out of cane waste that is presently thrown away after the harvest. Several by-products can be produced from sugar cane with no impact of sugar production or food security.

As part of its commitment to switch to sustainable manufacturing materials Danish toymaker Lego has pledged that its toys will be made with bio-plastics using  polyethylene produced with ethanol made from sugarcane. Bio-plastic replaces conventional plastic made from petroleum that is harmful to the environment. Bio plastics can be made that dissolve in a few months, while the conventional plastic remains for a hundred years in the environment.

In South Africa Coca Cola and Woolworths both use bio plastics in their packaging. In fact all of Woolworth’s plastic milk bottles contain bio-plastics sourced from sugarcane. Additionally, Pick n Pay and Woolworth’s have a pilot program utilizing plastic grocery bags made from sugarcane.

In the absence of South African bio-plastics manufacturing capacity most of these products being used in South Africa are sourced from Brazil, a country which leads the world in creating jobs and building their economy through sugarcane industrial diversification.

By using the waste to produce bio-plastic, all the components of sugarcane have a commercial value. The challenges facing the sugar industry in southern Africa forced by the glut in global sugar production and the dumping of exports of sugar into the region can be met, in part, by transforming the industry through diversification and creating new jobs and opportunities.

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