ecostore’s sweet solution to plastic bottles

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Despite having access to two of the most creative agencies in town – Special and Open – ecostore (no creative slouch itself, obviously) has gone in-house to market its new plastic bottles, made from sugarcane.

ecstore created, planned and booked all media directly. The video was created by the company’s illustrator, Ahi Rands (daughter of ecostore founders Malcolm & Melanie Rands) and animated by Jake Hocking, a friend of ecostore brand manager Kate Innes-Jones.

The new bottle is said to be a world-first, and ecostore is the only manufacturer to convert all its proprietary bottles to a plastic made from sugarcane. Malcolm Rands says the financial investment to the business has been significant but it’s one he believes is vital.

“Plastic is one of the world’s greatest problems and for some time I have been searching for alternatives for ecostore,” he says. “Our petrochemical plastic bottles have been a real bugbear to me. Finding a safer alternative has been a priority and now with sugarcane-based, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) from Brazil becoming available to ecostore, we are able to manufacture plastic bottles made from sugarcane.

“This is huge for me personally, for ecostore, New Zealand and the world. It’s an exciting day.”

Rands says sugarcane has many positive features particularly that it is a renewable, sustainable and fast growing crop. The sugarcane-based HDPE bottles resemble the exact same characteristics as their petrochemical plastic cousins – and to the naked eye will be unrecognisable.

“Customers won’t notice any physical differences at all, but they will know they are using a sugarcane-based HDPE bottle as we are calling it Carbon Capture Pak and will emboss each bottle on the base accordingly,” Rands says. “Customers can safely recycle them through their council recycling system, which is a key requirement for our conversion. We’ve been working with Visy Recycle Centre New Zealand to ensure it works, and it does.”

But Rands says there is an even bigger incentive for ecostore to convert to sugarcane-based HDPE given the recent UN Report1 that shows that New Zealand has actually increased its total greenhouse gas emissions by 111.41%.

“New Zealand is now ranked 43rd out of 44 countries, just above Turkey, for the largest increase greenhouse gas emissions,” he says. “It’s a disgrace particularly when many countries are decreasing their emissions. There’s a very good reason why we’re calling this our Carbon Capture Pak. As sugarcane grows it captures CO2 from the atmosphere, that is then stored in the plastic. This natural process actually reduces our carbon footprint, which can help to reduce climate change.”

Rands is aware people may be cynical about this statement and backs it up with research that shows every kilogram of Carbon Capture plastic produced captures and stores two kilograms of CO2 from the atmosphere. As a comparison, every kilogram of petrochemical plastic produced, causes just under two kilograms (1.83kg) of CO2 to be generated and released into the atmosphere. Rands says by converting from petrochemical plastic to Carbon Capture plastic ecostore alone will reduce the CO2 released by almost four kilograms for each kilogram of plastic produced.

“If we look at ecostore’s current production as a whole, we will save 639 tonnes of CO2 each year compared to using the traditional petrochemical plastic. That’s the equivalent of 123,000 daily commutes3. When you think about it in these terms the impact this could have on our world starts to hit home. People have to remember these savings are just from ecostore in New Zealand. Imagine if all of the big companies, not only in New Zealand but around the world, were doing this, the impact on our environment would be significant. It’s definitely something to ponder and we need to be asking the question, why aren’t they?”

With increased costs of around $250,000 a year Rands says the investment is another tangible example of ecostore’s commitment to ethical business practice.

“I know our existing customers will appreciate the commitment we are making, particularly given we are absorbing the cost and there will be no price increase for customers at all. We see this as a smart decision to make as a responsible company and one we hope will resonate with non-ecostore customers.”

The new ecostore Carbon Capture Paks are already appearing on supermarket and health store shelves with ‘Carbon Capture’ embossed on the base. Rands says this move currently excludes polypropylene caps, bulk stock bottles and their lip balms.

“It’s just a matter of time before the technology evolves and we will be able to manufacture 100% of our products in sugarcane-based HDPE. Right now, 98% of our bottled product is converting to sugarcane-based HDPE and no other company in the world has made a commitment like this.”

Q+A

How is sugarcane-based HDPE plastic made?

The ethanol from sugarcane goes through a dehydration process and is transformed into ethylene. The ethylene then goes to a polymerisation plant where it is transformed into polyethylene, the plastic made from sugarcane. The sugarcane plastic then comes to ecostore where we transform it into our Carbon Capture Pak.

How does sugarcane capture CO2 and reduce your carbon footprint?

Plants take in CO2 from the atmosphere through small pores in their leaves. They need CO2 for photosynthesis, which leads to the production of sugars, and eventually more complex molecules for use by the plant in growth and metabolism.

The CO2 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).

Are Carbon Capture Pak’s 100% recyclable?

Sugarcane-based HDPE is physically and chemically identical to traditional petrochemical plastic. This means it can be recycled in the same chain used for recycling traditional high-density polyethylene (#2) from petrochemical sources (unlike other bio-based plastics for which no recycling system exists).

Why is Carbon Capture so important?

Carbon CapturePak 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.

Are there additional benefits from using Carbon CapturePak’s?

Processing facilities that make the sugarcane ethanol operate almost exclusively on renewable energy that comes from the sugarcane by-products. Sugarcane bagasse, a waste product from the crushing process, is often used to generate power to supply the entire ethanol production process, which makes it energy self-sufficient. Any surplus power is sent to the grid, adding energy to Brazil’s energy matrix. The production process of Carbon Capture plastic uses over 70% less fossil fuels than traditional petroleum-based (HDPE) plastic.

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 New Zealand as a result biodegradable plastic ends up contaminating recycling streams or ends up in landfill where it is slow to biodegrade so less than ideal. Like plastics made from petrochemicals, Carbon CapturePak is a recyclable material and in fact can be recycled normally using the facilities we already have. If our Carbon Capture Pak did biodegrade or is incinerated, the captured CO2 would be released back to the atmosphere and it would then be carbon neutral. The fact that it is recyclable is a benefit as it reduces carbon emissions.

What % of the bottle comes from sugarcane?

92% of our Carbon Capture™ Paks content comes from renewable sugarcane content and remainder is mostly colour dye4.  Produced from Brazilian sugarcane, which is a renewable resource with an annual growth cycle.

Is there any noticeable difference in the plastic?

No, changes to ecostore bottles will be unnoticeable as sugarcane-based plastic is physically and chemically identical to traditional petrochemical plastic. In fact, the only way to differentiate the two products is through C-14 carbon dating. The same performance you love and expect but in a more sustainable bottle. That’s why we are embossing the base with the logo ‘Carbon Capture’ without this, there’s no way to tell the difference.

Do you use genetically modified sugarcane crops?

No, genetically modified sugarcane is not sold in Brazil, which is where our sugarcane is grown. This is currently restricted to cotton, corn and soybean only.

Does sugarcane cultivation use only rainwater?

Sugarcane in Brazil is practically not irrigated. Water needs, in the agricultural phase, are resolved naturally by the rainfall of the producing regions, mainly the centre-south of Brazil, and is complemented by the application of vinasse, a co-product of ethanol production that is rich in water and organic nutrients, in a process called fertigation.

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.

Are we taking land resources away from food production?

Today Brazil has 330 million hectares of arable land, only 1.4% of all arable land in Brazil is dedicated to ethanol production, and the consumption of ethanol for the production of sugarcane plastic represents about 1.7% of the total production of ethanol, or 0.02% of Brazil’s arable land. The existence of available land, combined with a possible intensification of livestock production, makes Brazil a country with room for expansion of agriculture. The use of land for the production of products other than food, even in a very optimistic scenario for the growth of the production of chemicals from renewable sources, should continue representing a small percentage of the total land available. The government has accepted a proposal to limit the expansion of sugarcane cultivation to 7.5% of Brazil’s landmass (65.7million hectares). This proposal took into account the environmental, economic and social aspects in order to coordinate the sustainable expansion of sugarcane cultivation.

How many tonnes of Carbon Capture plastic is produced per hectare of sugarcane?

53.5 hectares of land are required to produce a year’s supply of Carbon Capture plastic for ecostore; this is accounts for 0.00002% of Brazil’s total arable land. In one hectare, approximately 82.5 tons of sugarcane is produced, which can produce 7,200 litres of ethanol. This volume of ethanol produces three tons of ethylene, generating around three tons of Carbon Capture™ plastic.

Is sugarcane cultivated in a socially and sustainable responsible manner?

Sugarcane cultivation is conducted in accordance with Brazilian law and the rules and labour conditions established by the International Labour Organization (ILO) that should be followed by all employers, which are subject to regular inspections by the government.

Our sugarcane-based HDPE supplier also has implemented a Code of Conduct for Ethanol Suppliers that is part of the “National Commitment to Social Assistance” program, which ascribes new rights to workers and ensures them a better quality of life. The code of conduct covers 5 pillars – reduction of cane burning, conserving biodiversity, good environmental practises, respect for human rights and life cycle assessment.  This is guaranteed by a third party auditing programme.

About ecostore

Founded in 1993, ecostore proudly creates home care, personal care and baby care products that are gentle and safer for people, as well as the planet. With 74 employees, ecostore products are sold nationwide and internationally in 7 countries including New Zealand, Australia, United States, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

ecostore manufactures its products at its ISO 14001, Enviro-MarkNZ–Diamond, CarboNZero certified facility in Auckland. ecostore was awarded New Zealand’s ‘Sustainable Business of the Year’ in 2009 and has been voted by kiwis as leading the way in sustainability in Colmar Brunton’s Better Business, Better World survey for two years running.   Their laundry range again won the coveted Canstar Blue award for overall performance and value excellence (2012, 2013).


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