What is Bagasse? And Why Does It Matter?

what the heck is bagasse?

What is Bagasse?

Let’s start with the easy stuff. It's pronounced: /bəˈɡæs/ bə-gas. What is it? Bagasse is a plant fiber. More specifically, it is the fibrous matter that is left over after the production of sugarcane, sorghum or agave. So in a word, it is bio-waste. Historically, bagasse was treated as unusable and disposed of - thrown away, burned or left in open piles to rot. It was not seen as a useful by-product. Fortunately, things have changed and bagasse is being seen as a valuable, renewable resource. It is currently being used in a number of applications worldwide, including power production, tree-free paper production and in some countries it is being investigated as a viable base for livestock feed.

Power Production.

Bagasse is being used as a fuel source for sugar mills; when burned in quantity, it produces sufficient heat energy to supply all the needs of a typical sugar mill with energy to spare. It is currently being used around the world as a fuel source to provide both heat energy and electricity; which is sold back to the consumer electricity grid.

There has been some debate over the resulting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that such a power plant generates; but overall the CO2 emissions are equal to the amount of CO2 that the sugarcane plant absorbed from the atmosphere during its growing phase, which makes the greenhouse gas effects neutral. In many countries (such as Australia), sugar factories significantly contribute 'green' power to the overall electricity supply. One of America's largest sugar companies (Florida Crystals), owns and operates the largest biomass power plant in North America. The facility uses bagasse to generate power to its milling and refining operations as well as renewable electricity for nearly 60,000 homes.

Tree-free Paper and Paper Products.

Bagasse makes an excellent substitution for so many products that have conventionally made from trees (wood pulp or fiber). Let’s use an example to demonstrate our point - a normal paper plate that you would use for a picnic. Trees are plants and they can be replanted, but it is a long process for that tree to grow to the point that it can be harvested. When we remove a forest we also destroy the entire ecosystem. By using the by-products of agricultural crops instead for paper production, it only takes a single growing season to renew those materials and we have far less of an impact on the ecosystem. Let’s face it - the destruction of our forests for commercial paper stock just doesn’t make sense - we are losing our forests and rain forests at a rate of 80,000 acres per day. Oh and guess what? That paper plate has a petroleum coating on it to make it more resistant to greasy or wet foods. That means that it’s much harder to recycle and renders it non compostable.

So what if you use plastic or foam (Styrofoam) plates? Well, first of all, you are using a product made from petroleum which is a non renewable resource. Right now we need that petroleum for power and to move our planes, trains and automobiles. The problems with petroleum extraction to make plastic and polystyrene go even deeper - think oil spills, landfill failures, greenhouse gas emissions and the growing problems related to hydraulic horizontal drilling for natural gas (aka fracking). And those are just a few of the environmental concerns. Add to that the growing body of evidence citing related health issues from toxins from petroleum-based products and you will quickly realize plastics and foam are not the answer. Bagasse, on the other hand, is being recognized worldwide as a hugely beneficial alternative to felling our trees and extracting our nonrenewable resources.

Around 5–10% of paper production worldwide is now produced from renewable plant based biomass - not trees. One of the most common sources of this plant material is bagasse. Paper production is the second-largest revenue stream from bagasse, the largest being the production of power previously mentioned. Due to the ease with which bagasse can be annually produced, pulped, molded and composted, it is quickly becoming a renewable solution to the deforestation and our rapidly depleting fossil fuel reserves. We believe that substituting readily renewable agricultural by-products for commercial forestry practices or petroleum production just makes good sense.

Bagasse - It’s Renewable & Compostable

Bagasse is naturally grease and cut resistant, microwavable, freezer safe and can easily withstand temperatures of 200 degrees fahrenheit. Because it is a plant based product, it is easily compostable and welcomed in commercial composting facilities as a carbon introduction vehicle in the composting process. Most bagasse can be home composted, too - as long as the end user chops or shreds the product and uses proper composting measures. Bagasse is therefore well positioned as an excellent alternative to conventional paper, plastic and foam based products in a growing number of products including tissue, newsprint, tableware, writing paper and a number of other consumer products.

We highly recommend bagasse to all of our customers. Talk to us about converting to bagasse. You can help save our planet - one paper plate at a time!