A sustainable sugarcane plastics revolution?

Sep 27 2019

With the prevalence of harmful single-use plastics firmly in the global spotlight, Lego’s next step in its eco overhaul has been to unveil a range of bricks made from sugarcane-derived plastics. Is this the beginning of a sustainable sugarcane plastics revolution?

What is the Lego Plants from Plants range?

Lego has made a commitment to use only sustainable materials in its core products by 2030. To take the first step towards this, it has released the Plants from Plants range, a set of Lego plants made of plastic derived from sugarcane. Composed of 98% biopolyethylene, the reformulated products meet the sustainability guidelines laid out by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), due to the CO2 absorbed by the sugarcane as it grows.

Brazilian firm Braskem is Lego’s supplier. The company already has a process in place that allows for the conversion of ethanol from sugarcane into ethylene, the precursor for biopolyethylene. Alongside this, Braskem’s sugar is certified as sustainable by Bonsucro, and, according to the company’s findings, each tonne of biopolyethylene removes 3.09 metric tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere.

It remains to be seen whether Lego can roll out this process across its entire iconic range of bricks. So they can effectively and repeatedly lock and unlock, the raw material these bricks are made of requires a highly precise specification. Tests have already shown that biopolyethylene doesn’t match this, but the move by Lego demonstrates the role sugarcane-derived plastics could play in a sustainable future.

Lego’s Plants for Plants range is the first product sold by the company comprised of entirely sustainable plastic.

 Biopolyethylene: the future of sustainable plastic?

Lego’s decision to introduce biopolyethylene (or bio-PET) products is testament to its surging popularity in a wide variety of industries. Biopolyethylene is already in the cosmetics industry, where it is used to make containers for shampoos and other cleaning products. Its popularity stems from the fact it results in a plastic that is much less oil-dependent than, but retains the same properties as, standard petroleum-based polyethylene.

Bio-PET also delivers a net reduction of CO2. Not only are the environmentally damaging effects of petroleum production all but avoided, using sugarcane as a feed crop absorbs CO2. Building on the statistics we have already seen from Braskem, global bio-PET production consumes over 1.5 billion pounds of CO2 a year.

These findings are promising but cannot be viewed in isolation. Sugarcane production is resource intensive, often requiring the fossil fuels saved by producing bio-PET to support growing the crop in the first place. In addition, as is the case with any large-scale production of feedstock, fertilizers and pesticides are also required. More information on the difficulties in finding sustainable methods of sugarcane production can be found in my earlier blog on Bonsucro’s voluntarily sustainability standards (VSS).

What part will sugarcane play in a sustainable future?

Despite the inherent challenges that come with sugarcane growing, bio-PET demonstrates the crucial role the crop could play in finding an alternative to traditional polyethylene. With many companies across the globe, such as Evian, beginning to set plastic use reduction targets, bio-PET provides an immediate and viable solution that is free of sacrifice. As for Lego’s brick, only time will tell the role sugarcane will play in their future.

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Crystalline sugars: what’s the difference?

Sep 19 2019

At Ragus, we have a wide range of crystalline sugars. But what is the difference between muscovado, demerara or white refined sugar?

What is a crystalline sugar?

Sucrose (table sugar) is a disaccharide, meaning it is a molecule composed of two monosaccharides, in this case, glucose and fructose. For both sugar beet or sugar cane, sucrose is extracted from a solution in water and then crystallised from a concentrated syrup.

Whether it’s sugar beet or sugar cane, a refinery process is required to produce either raw cane or white refined sugar. Both beet and cane are cut cleaned and crushed, with the natural juice heated and purified. The raw juice is then boiled with evaporators in a vacuum to create a thick and sweet amber juice.

The juice is then seeded with sugar crystals, which grow to create a super-saturated massecuite syrup. During this process, molasses develops. At this stage, the crystals need to be separated from the syrup, so it is placed in a centrifugal machine. Whether the original material is cane or beet and what product is being produced determines the number of spins in the machine to remove the molasses content.

What is the difference between crystalline sugars?

Two factors determine the differences. The most important of these is molasses content. Adjusting this dramatically alters taste, texture and usage, resulting in the different types of crystalline sugars that Ragus use. The other difference is that whereas white refined sugar and brown sugar can be made from either sugar cane or sugar beet, muscovado sugar and raw cane demerara sugar must come from sugar cane.

White refined sugar represents a crystalline sugar with no molasses content. As such, it is called upon when sweetness rather than richness is required for an end product. Its light taste means it is ideal for adding sweetness to biscuits or as a bulking agent in yoghurt and beverages.

Raw cane sugar and demerara get their amber colour from the light amount of molasses present and have coarser crystals than refined white sugar. Both raw cane sugar and demerara are ideal for coffee table sugar or adding a mellow flavour to cereals.

 

Are muscovado and brown sugar different?

Yes – they are both unique sugars. Natural muscovado sugar is made exclusively from cane sugar and contains a high amount of cane molasses, resulting in a rich, deep flavour. It is also has a fine texture and is quite moist.

Conversely brown sugar contains varying levels of molasses, meaning it is available in a varying range of hues, tastes and textures. Not only that, brown sugar can be made from both sugar cane or sugar beet, with the production process altering depending on what is used. Due to its broad range of flavours, colour and texture, it can be used to add richness to savoury sauces or add colour to cakes and toffee.

As we have seen, different end products can require radically different crystalline sugars. To benefit from our 90 years of experience when choosing yours, contact Ragus now. 

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Ragus take steps to combat continuing Brexit uncertainty

Sep 13 2019

With yet another Brexit deadline approaching, businesses are unclear about almost all aspects of a post-EU future. For Ragus, this means taking measures to reassure our customers by replacing conjecture with clarity.

Has anything changed for the sugar industry since the last Brexit deadline?

We are still no nearer to a concrete plan for Britain’s future outside the European Union (EU). Plans made by Theresa May, such as the potentially damaging proposed sugar tariffs discussed in my earlier blog, have not been echoed by Boris Johnson. In fact, continuing with the sugar tariffs example, Johnson said following his election that he would prefer to scrap tariffs altogether.

This level of discontinuity is frustrating. Not only is the most recent Brexit deadline of 31st October fast approaching, the sugar industry is currently in the process of negotiating contracts for the new sugar marketing year, further compounding the situation. As a result, businesses across the country are making decisions on a day-by-day basis. We all hope for clarity as soon as possible so we can begin to properly plan for the future.

The situation, however, is by no means insurmountable. Ragus is always fully equipped to meet customer needs and guarantee supply chains continue to run smoothly. Brexit is no different, and we have already taken specific Brexit-induced steps over the past few years.

What steps have Ragus taken to ensure customer needs are met both pre and post-Brexit?

As was the case in March, the looming Brexit deadline has caused many of our customers to stockpile. Ragus always advise against this approach. Stockpiling goods is expensive and there often isn’t the room in warehouses to store all the necessary goods. More on the effect stockpiling has on the sugar supply chain can be found in the following blog.

To mitigate the need to stockpile, we have globally sourced sugars from countries that will be tariff-free. As a result, Ragus has several months’ worth of sugar in reserve that we can quickly call upon to help go towards meeting customer requirements. Having this amount of sugar contracted and agreed to also means our customers will to some extent be shielded from the potential price increases caused by a potential post-Brexit €150/tonne tariff on white refined sugar imported from the EU.

Having this reserve also means we can deal with the predicted three-year low in sugar production. Total global output is expected to fall 6.4 million tonnes to 180 million tonnes overall. This will put a tightness on the world supply that we can effectively manage.

Ensuring customer needs are always met is central to operations at Ragus. That’s why we have tried to combat Brexit uncertainty by agreeing to contracts that allow us to access several months worth of reserve sugar.

Trying to make sense of conjecture: what does the future hold?

Planning for all possible outcomes is crucial to being suitably prepared for whatever Brexit we are dealt. Such is its importance to the country, one might expect that a specific food and agriculture deal is negotiated either prior or soon after 31st October, providing this ends up being the day Britain leaves the EU. As it currently stands, there appear to be three possible outcomes for the near future:

1. The EU grant a short extension to the current deadline in exchange for a sizeable divorce payment, meaning we leave without a deal and either tariff-free or on the terms outlined by May earlier in the year

2. The EU gives the UK extension until Christmas, resulting in a general election. If a Conservative-Brexit Party majority then wins, sugar could be subject to high import and export duties to and from the EU.

3. A remain-backing party or coalition wins the general election and calls another referendum.

It is entirely possible none of these happen. Such is the level of uncertainty surrounding Brexit, making solid predictions seems futile. That is why Ragus has ensured it is robustly equipped to deal with the situation and ensure all our customers, and in turn, their consumers, remain well stocked and satisfied.

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Granular detail: Muscovado sugar

Sep 05 2019

Muscovado sugar is a popular sugar product used the world over. In our latest edition of Granular Detail, we dive into everything there is to know about this molasses-rich sugar.

What is muscovado sugar?

‘Muscovado’ is derived from a mixture of the Portuguese ‘açúcar mascavado’ and the Spanish ‘azúcar mascabado’, meaning unrefined sugar. Despite this European influenced etymology, muscovado sugar is still a cane sugar and therefore does go through a partial refinery process. The method for muscovado sugar does differ from white granulated cane sugar, as the molasses juice in the sugar cane is not removed (as it is with white) giving it a caramel like flavour.

As there is no legal definition for muscovado or international coding standards, various sugar products use the name ‘muscovado’, regardless of the refinery process, leading to confusion on the difference between brown and muscovado sugar. Brown sugar often serves as an adequate replacement in the baking industry, depending on what end product is being produced, but they are subtly different. Unlike muscovado, which retains a high percentage of molasses on the crystal, raw cane brown sugars are spun for longer in the centrifuge leaving a less adhering film of molasses on the crystal.

Some brown sugars are not produced from the raw cane but can be white granulated sugar with the molasses blended to the crystal, meaning brown sugar can be produced from beet or cane sugar. With a fine grain texture, this crystalline is dark brown in colour and has a moist texture making it ideal for the baking industry. Also, due to its high molasses content, muscovado sugar contains high levels of minerals such as calcium, iron and magnesium.

 

What products is muscovado sugar used in?

Muscovado sugar’s rich flavour and moisture density mean it is primarily used in the baking industry, such as in chocolate-based preparations like brownies or cookies. The same qualities also mean it is ideally suited to use in fruit cakes and Christmas cakes.

As muscovado has a fine texture, it is also used in chutneys, pickles, toffee and savoury sauces, helping to accentuate the smoky flavours in the latter. To add to its diverse usage, it can also be used in salad dressings, glazes on meats or in ice-cream for a bittersweet caramelised taste. And as it is a crystalline sugar containing high levels of molasses, it enables a one product application replacing the need to use both molasses and white sugar.

How is muscovado sugar produced?

Muscovado comes from sugar cane and goes through part of the refinery process that is used to produce partially refined raw sugar. The process starts with cutting, cleaning and crushing the sugar cane, its sweet natural juice is then heated and purified. Evaporators then boil the raw juice in a vacuum to remove the natural water, creating a very sweet and thick amber juice.

The resulting amber juice is then seeded with sugar crystals which grow to create a super-saturated massecuite syrup. It is during this process that the colour, flavour and aroma of molasses is formed. In order to separate the crystals, the massecuite syrup has to be spun in a centrifugal machine.

The now separated syrup still contains a lot of sugar, so it’s spun four times to extract the maximum amount of raw sugar. The first and second spins produce raw sugar, shipped in bulk for white sugar refining. The third and fourth spins are mixed with a magma of molasses which produces among other products muscovado sugar.

90 years’ experience in the sugar industry means Ragus has a wealth of knowledge on the muscovado sugar you need for your application. Contact us now to order yours.

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