Eastman’s chemical recycling technology begins commercial operation

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KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — Eastman Chemical Co. hopes to take up to 50 million pounds of plastic out of the waste stream in 2020 for its newly launched chemical recycling program, the company announced today.

Eastman has launched commercial operation of a chemical recycling technology that converts waste plastic to usable products. The process breaks waste plastics into “molecular building blocks” such as carbon, oxygen and hydrogen.

A news release says the company hopes to provide “an end-of-life solution” for many types of plastics. A number of those plastic types, including textiles, carpet and single-use products, can’t be processed through traditional recycling methods and are typically landfilled or incinerated.

“Closing the loop of waste plastics is a complex problem that has to be solved with innovative solutions,” Eastman CEO Mark Costa said. He added that the carbon renewal technology “will revolutionize recycling at the molecular level.”

The process will occur at Eastman’s Kingsport plant, where it has modified the front end of two production areas to accept waste plastic. This reduces the amount of fossil-based feedstock required for production of acetyls and cellulosics.

How it works: The carbon renewal technology process breaks down waste plastic feedstocks to the molecular level before using them as building blocks. Those building blocks produce everything from textiles to cosmetics. The waste plastics can be recycled an infinite number of times without degradation of quality.

At an Eastman event last month, Costa told reporters Eastman was also working on a second process called methanolysis that “unzips” waste products back to their basic carbon or other ingredients. He said Eastman hopes to deploy that method at scale by 2021 or 2022.

Mark Costa, right, at Eastman’s Sept. 25 100th anniversary kickoff.

“That’s a huge opportunity for us with the sensitivity today in the world about addressing plastics in the ocean, landfill problems, and we’re going to be at operational scale well ahead of anyone else in the Western world in solving this problem,” Costa said last month.

The end products will be certified by an independent group that tracks sustainable content, International Sustainability and Carbon Certification. In the release, Costa said no single company can solve the problem of waste plastics.

“Beginning commercial production of carbon renewal technology is a proof point of our determination to act quickly and decisively to accelerate the circular economy,” Costa said.

The news release said Eastman hopes to scale up quickly – the company only announced its intentions to become a global leader in chemical recycling eight months ago — and hopes it can take significantly more than 50 million pounds by 2021.

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