Drive around Queensland’s sugarcane regions and you’re driving through untapped potential. It’s a potential we’re keen for investors and entrepreneurs to take notice of.
Sugar will always be our major product, exported to a growing world population but there’s a lot more to the sugarcane plant than the juice which is extracted and converted into crystals for food in the state’s sugar mills.
As growers, we would like to have a few more avenues for making income from our cane to help in times of low world sugar prices.
That’s why we welcomed the start of a Queensland ban on some disposable plastic items at the start of September as positive policy to boost existing demand for Australian-made plastic alternatives.
Citing strong support from the community and retailers (and the fact that half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once) the state has now banned single-use plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery, plates and unenclosed bowls, as well as expanded polystyrene cups and takeaway containers.
I hope that this policy will help build the business case for locally made products that are biodegradable, compostable and based on a renewable resource, such as our sugarcane.
We have hectares of it up and down the coast perfectly positioned for use as a plastic alternative.
Overseas, places including China, India, Thailand and Europe pushing ahead with bio-industries and their products are now increasingly available here.
These products wouldn’t be on our supermarket shelves as alternatives to plastic if customers were not seeking to buy them.
Sandwich bags from Thailand, food wrap from China, straws from Taiwan and rubbish bags from Vietnam all made from sugarcane are readily available and the range is growing.
The Queensland Government Biofutures Industry Envoy, Professor Ian O’Hara from the Queensland University of Technology, told a gathering of Mackay cane growers earlier this year that the market for biobased products was expected to exceed $1 trillion by 2022.
That is a sizeable market which is being helped along by the new ban on single-use items.
From universities to government, there is a willingness for renewables to contribute to a new bioeconomy and it seems consumers are happy to use the alternatives.
As Australian cane growers, we want to be part of meeting the demand for plastic alternatives alongside producing sugar as food.
All we need now are the entrepreneurs and investors, backed by supportive government policy, to be as excited about our hectares of sugarcane as we are and step up to the plate and provide the spark to make biodegradable alternatives to plastics a manufacturing reality for the Australian sugarcane industry.