Waste disposal is one of the most important problems facing anyone who wants to live an eco-friendly lifestyle. So many of the things we use every day get tossed in the trash and end up buried at the bottom of a landfill or downcycled into less useful products. This is especially true of plastic, which is one of the most environmentally damaging material both to produce and dispose of. Recently, research has begun to focus on finding alternatives to plastic that can be made without the use of petrochemicals and that can be disposed of responsibly. One of those alternatives is bagasse.
Bagasse has actually been around a long time: it’s the name for the pulp left over after juice has been extracted from sugarcane, sugar beets, sorghum stalk, or agave. Basically, once the juice has been squeezed from stems, leaves, or fruits, the factories are left with a mixture of fibrous plant debris similar to wood pulp. Not surprisingly, countries that produce a lot of sugar are the main sources of bagasse. Brazil creates over 100 million tons a year, and other sugar-exporting countries like Vietnam, India, China, and Thailand are also heavy producers.
What is it used for?
This pulp has long been burned by sugarcane processors as fuel to run factories – in fact, one of the largest biomass energy facility (a power plant that burns biological waste for energy) in the U.S. is run by a sugar company. Bagasse is much cleaner burning than fossil fuels and is considered carbon neutral since the amount of carbon released is the same as the amount of carbon the plants absorbed during growth. There is also research being done on using bagasse as a source of ethanol with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 85% over gasoline.
Another use for bagasse, and the most important one for everyday consumers, is as a source of pulp for paper. The fibers in bagasse can be used as an alternative to wood in the production of paper products like tissues, napkins, toilet paper, stationary, and cardboard without any loss in the quality of the product. It’s also sturdy enough to replace styrofoam and plastic for use in disposable plates, cups, and takeout containers.
Why choose bagasse?
From seed to final product, bagasse is an environmentally friendly alternative to everyday items made from plastic and wood pulp. Because it’s a byproduct of sugar production, it does not require a heavy investment of new resources to produce, and bagasse products are actually a way to make use of material that would otherwise be discarded. Sugarcane is also much faster growing than trees, which means that the use of bagasse for the manufacturing of paper makes it easy to reduce our reliance on harvesting wood.
One of the reasons bagasse is so important is that these products can replace the less environmentally-friendly versions we use every day. Many restaurants have replaced plastic or styrofoam take-out containers with bagasse, and you can also find disposable kitchenware like plates, bowls, and even Toilet paper all made from bagasse. And unlike other kinds of paper, bagasse kitchen products don’t need a plastic lining to stay waterproof, which means they can easily be composted, and these cups and plates will hold food and liquids up to 200 °F.
How do I dispose of bagasse?
Because bagasse is plant-based, it is easily compostable. Bagasse napkins, cups, or packaging will decompose in an average of 2 to 4 months in a home compost bin and in even less time in an industrial compost site. Just remember if you have bagasse products to dispose of to make sure they find their way into the compost: landfills cover waste so it doesn’t have access to the air, moisture, and microorganisms necessary for decomposition, meaning bagasse products you throw in the trash will take a very long time to break down. If disposed of properly, though, bagasse is a smart, eco-friendly alternative to plastic.