Chemical and fiber company Eastman has started commercial operation of an innovative chemical recycling technology that takes aim at solving the global and industry problems of plastic waste.
Eastman’s carbon renewal technology breaks down waste plastics into molecular building blocks such as carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. Carbon renewal technology is a “game-changer for recycling,” Eastman said, because it provides an end-of-life solution for many plastics from a variety of sources, such as single-use plastics, textiles and carpet, that traditional mechanical recycling methods cannot process.
As a result, many of these plastics wind up in landfills or are incinerated, both adding potential pollution to the environment. Eastman expects to use up to 50 million pounds of waste plastic in carbon renewal technology operations in 2020, and projects have begun that would significantly expand that amount.
“Eastman is a company of problem solvers and our people have the capabilities to tackle the world’s biggest problems,” Mark Costa, board chair and CEO, said. “Closing the loop of waste plastics is a complex problem that has to be solved with innovative solutions.
“With the right people, world-class technologies and our unique vertical integration, Eastman is uniquely positioned to scale up this solution quickly,” he added. “With carbon renewal technology, we will revolutionize recycling at the molecular level.”
Carbon renewal technology is operated in Kingsport, Tenn., home to the company’s largest manufacturing site and world headquarters. Eastman modified the front end of its acetyls and cellulosics production processes to accept waste plastic, reducing the amount of fossil feedstocks required.
Carbon renewal technology has a significantly improved carbon footprint compared to the use of fossil feedstocks, according to preliminary lifecycle analysis studies by Eastman scientists.
In the carbon renewal technology process, waste plastic feedstocks are broken down to the molecular level and then used as building blocks that are indistinguishable from virgin materials to produce products used in Eastman markets, including textiles, cosmetics and personal care, and ophthalmics markets. With carbon renewal technology, waste plastics can theoretically be recycled an infinite number of times without degradation of quality.
Eastman’s recycled materials will be certified by International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC), an independent agency for tracking sustainable content in a variety of industries. Costa said Eastman will work across the value chain–with Eastman customers, potential feedstock suppliers, product manufacturers, brands and non-governmental organizations such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF)–to implement this large-scale circular solution for recycling waste plastics.
Eastman became a member of EMF’s Circular Economy 100 Network earlier this year.
“The problem of waste plastics is not one that can be solved by a single company, but Eastman is taking definitive action to do our part,” Costa said. “Beginning commercial production of carbon renewal technology is a proof point of our determination to act quickly and decisively to accelerate the circular economy.
“Bringing this project to fruition so quickly—just eight months after we announced our intention to be a leader in chemical recycling—required innovation by some of the world’s brightest minds and effort by thousands of members of the Eastman team,” he added.
Eastman is a global specialty materials company that produces a broad range of products that includes textiles such as Naia cellulosic yarn, Estron acetate yarn and Avra recycled polyester performance fibers, as well as transportation, building and construction, and consumables. The company had 2018 revenues of approximately $10 billion.