Bagasse, also known as sugarcane pulp, is a fibrous material left behind in the sugarcane harvesting process. It has a multitude of uses and is especially valuable in the foodservice packaging industry as a sustainable alternative to conventional plastic packaging.
Bagasse (sugarcane pulp): The environmentally responsible paper alternative
Learn all about the bagasse material including how it is made, the environmental and economic advantages of bagasse and how it fits into the circular economy.
What is bagasse?
Bagasse, otherwise known as sugarcane pulp, is a by-product of the sugarcane industry. It is the fibrous substance that is left behind after the juice of the sugarcane plant is harvested. Up until recently, bagasse was usually disposed of or left to rot. But today, it is used as a renewable resource for the production of paper products and as a fuel for factories.
How is bagasse produced?
Bagasse is used for multiple purposes, but there is a specific method involved in the production of tree-free packaging products. After the sugarcane plant has been harvested and the liquid has been extracted, the leftover substance (bagasse) is kept wet and then blended with water to form a pulp.
Additives are combined with the pulp, and it is then pressed into the shape of the packaging product required by applying pressure at high temperature. The result is a sturdy, microwavable, compostable food packaging product made from plant-based, renewable resources.
Environmental advantages of bagasse
Bagasse is biodegradable under commercial composting conditions and will breakdown within 30-90 days (source). While many paper-based products can also be composted, the advantage of bagasse is that growing it does not have the same environmental impact as paper, which comes from trees.
According to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Timber production has been identified as one of the four key contributors to deforestation. “Wood production has been shown to cause around 380,000 hectares of deforestation annually in key countries” (source).
“Why does deforestation matter? Forests—especially tropical forests—store enormous amounts of carbon. When forests are destroyed, that carbon is released to the atmosphere, accelerating global warming. Deforestation accounts for around 10% of total heat-trapping emissions—roughly the same as the yearly emissions from 600 million cars.” (source).
Trees take a long time to grow to maturity before they can be harvested (7-10 years), and to harvest them, acres of land are cleared, making it a resource-intensive process. Sugarcane, on the other hand, can be harvested annually, making it a rapidly renewable resource.
Bagasse: a plant-based fibre product, a truly circular option
Unlike plastic or polystyrene products, bagasse products are commercially and home compostable. Under composting conditions, bagasse will break down into a nutrient-rich compost that can be used as fertiliser and soil conditioner.