4/15/2019 | 2 MINUTE READ

Eastman Launches Chemical Recycling Innovation for Complex Plastic Waste

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Eastman’s ‘carbon renewal technology’ can recycle difficult to recycle plastic waste such as flexible packaging and films.

Last month, I reported on two companies that are pursuing chemical recycling technologies that will contribute to the ‘circular economy’ and sustainable development: Braskem, which is aiming to accelerate the development of chemical recycling of consumer waste products such as grocery bags and packaging films; and, Eastman Chemical, which announced the launch of an advanced circular recycling technology that uses polyester waste which cannot be recycled by current mechanical methods. The latter’s goal is to be operating a full-scale, advanced circular recycling facility within 24 to 36 months.

Now, Eastman has unveiled the introduction of a new innovation: ‘carbon renewal technology’ reportedly capable of recycling some of the most complex plastic waste, including non-polyester plastics and mixed plastics that cannot be recycled with conventional recycling technologies. With this new recycling technology, materials such as flexible packaging and plastic films, among others, can be diverted from landfills and converted into building blocks for downstream chemical production.

Let me say that the company is aiming to move this along as well, having completed pilot tests at its Kingsport site with plans for commercial production within this year by leveraging existing assets. Eastman is exploring commercial collaborations to yield mixed plastic waste to be recycled through this technology at commercial scale. Such upstream potential partners include waste management companies that lack viable outlets for materials. Eastman sources note that downstream, brands and end users are making a commitment to increase the recycled content of their products, yet there’s not enough recycled material available today through mechanical recycling to meet these commitments.

Here is some further clarification on Eastman’s carbon renewal technology. This is a large scale, highly-efficient recycling technology that can handle non-polyester plastics and mixed plastics that can’t be recycled with conventional recycling technology. By modifying the front end of Eastman's cellulosics production, carbon renewal technology now converts plastic waste back to simple and versatile molecular components. In this process, the waste plastic is reacted with water and oxygen at high temperature and pressure back into the basic building blocks for Eastman's acetyl and cellulosics product lines—carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Eastman uses these building blocks to make methanol and methanol derivatives, including methyl acetate, acetic acid and acetic anhydride. These materials are then used for the manufacture of a variety of consumer products.

As such, despite some seeming similarities, Eastman’s carbon renewal technology has a very different purpose from combustion or incineration for energy. As an example, using carbon renewal technology, products such as LCD screens, fiber for apparel or durable cellulosic plastic goods can be made from renewable cellulose and recycled plastic waste.

Eastman will aim to use the technology to produce a variety of materials, not just plastics and Eastman cellulosics products, but also products for such market applications as textiles, nonwovens, ophthalmics, durables and more. According to company sources, the building blocks produced through carbon renewal technology reportedly retain the valuable performance properties and quality that customers expect from Eastman products which include: Cellulosic polymers such as Naia fibers for clothing, performance films for LCD screens, coatings for automotive, and durable goods such as eye-glass frames.

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