Braskem, a large chemical company in Brazil, has begun to produce a version of polyethylene from sugar cane in sample quantities and plans to start exporting it in industrial quantities in late 2009.
Independent firm Beta Analytic certified that the polyethylene produced by Braskem's pilot production line, which is used to make flexible packaging, does come from 100 percent renewable raw materials.
Ultimately, Braskem could produce 200,000 tons of the stuff a year.
Green plastic is becoming big business. A few U.S. start-ups such as Cereplast have produced resins for biodegradable forks and drinking cups. More recently, chemical giants have become more interested too. Archer Daniels Midland is working with start-up Metabolix on a corn-based biodegradable plastic that could go into production in the second half of 2008.
Green plastics have actually been around for years, but have been expensive compared to plastics made from fossil fuel byproducts. The price difference, however, should begin to disappear over the coming years, and green plastic goes into volume production as petroleum rises in price.
This isn't the first time, of course, that Brazil has parlayed its agricultural lands for clean technology. The country is one of the big consumers of ethanol.