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Eastman Hits On New Circular Solution for Polyester Recycling

Specialty materials company Eastman said it plans to pursue the creation of an advanced circular recycling technology using polyester waste that cannot be recycled by current mechanical methods and often ends up in landfills or waterways.

Using a process called methanolysis, Eastman’s circular recycling technology breaks down polyester-based products into their polymer building blocks. These can then be reintroduced to the production of new polyester-based polymers, delivering a circular solution.

Eastman was an early developer of methanolysis technology at commercial scale and has more than 30 years of expertise in the process. The circular recycling technology, according to Eastman, can be an efficient solution to the polyester waste problem, as the low-quality polyester waste diverted from landfills can now be recycled into high-quality polyester suitable for use in a variety of end markets.

“We recognize that plastic waste is a complex problem that needs advanced solutions,” said Mark Costa, Eastman’s board chair and CEO. “As we have engaged potential partners, it is clear there is high interest across the entire value chain. Our long history of technical expertise in chemical processes, including methanolysis, and our leading position in copolyester chemistry, enables us to provide this innovative solution to address the growing challenges of plastic waste in our environment.”

Eastman is currently executing an engineering feasibility study on the design and construction of a commercial scale methanolysis facility to meet the demands of its customers and has had initial discussions with potential partners across the value chain on the development of a facility. The goal is to be operating a full-scale, advanced circular recycling facility within 24 to 36 months.

The production of polyester using recycled plastics has become a big business with sustainable roots in the last decade, with companies such as Unifi Inc. achieving deep penetration in the apparel market with its Repreve fiber brand. What do to with used polyester fabric and clothing has been a problem without a viable solution for some time, though the subject has garnered more attention in recent years. There’s been a particular focus on the shedding of polyester microfibers into the waterways leading to negative health effects on ocean wildlife and people.

Eastman said its efforts to find solutions to advance the circular economy align with the company’s innovation-driven growth strategy and commitment to create value through sustainability. With a strong focus on issues and opportunities within the environmental, social and governance framework, the company has established goals and strategies to address these challenges.

“We believe we have an obligation to enhance the quality of life in a material way,” said David Golden, senior vice president, chief legal and sustainability officer, and corporate secretary at Eastman. “As the desire grows for products that have a sustainable life cycle, Eastman continues to build on its heritage of world-class technology platforms and product innovation to offer solutions at the molecular level. Today, more than ever, the world needs innovation, and Eastman is excited about the possibilities we can achieve by working along the value chain, across industry sectors and with community partners to expand our efforts and make the greatest collective impact.”

Eastman said its advanced solutions can complement mechanical recycling to help companies achieve their goals for waste reduction and commitments to using sustainable materials, including recycled content. Eastman is actively seeking partners to help expand the capacity of its circular solutions and deliver innovative recycling technologies that unlock new value in plastic.

“More importantly, we can work together to help provide solutions that help address the global waste problem,” the company added.

Based in Kingsport, Tenn., Eastman serves customers in more than 100 countries. The company had revenues of roughly $10 billion in 2018.

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