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Eastman makes big strides in chemical recycling of plastics

US chemical company Eastman has developed two circular production processes.

Eastman is building a facility, expected to be completed in 24 to 36 months, which will perform chemical recycling on a broadly mixed stream of polyester-family polymers using a process called methanolysis. The input stream includes polyesters as well as coloured, coated and contaminated polyethylene, says Holli Alexander, strategic initiatives manager for global sustainability at Eastman.

The company, which reported revenues of US$ 10 billion (EUR 9 billion) last year, says its innovative process can break down the plastic scrap into two base monomers, dimethyl terephthalate and ethylene glycol, from which virgin polyester is made.

‘Our intention then is to use those monomers as intermediates for our co-polyester production in-house,’ Alexander explains. That would include the company’s Tritan plastic, used primarily for consumer housewares, Eastar for packaging and the Glass polymer for cosmetic packaging.

The second recycling process is based on gasification. Eastman calls this the Carbon Renewal Technology. It is described as the ‘circularisation of an existing production process’. Only now, though, the approach will take in a much broader stream of mixed plastics, not limited to polyester, and break them down into the basic chemical constituents of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Those two chemicals, when combined, become syngas.

Closing the gap

This isn’t the first time Eastman has backed plastics recycling. Back in the 90s, Eastman invested in a commercial line of PET materials that used 50% chemically recycled content. The ambitious project was discontinued because demand for recycled materials was not high enough at the time. It’s safe to say this has changed in recent years.

‘Eastman has a strong history in polymer science and has experience with commercialising advanced circular recycling, known in scientific terms as methanolysis,’ the company writes in its latest sustainability report. ‘We know this is a technology that works and a methanolysis facility can be developed at a scale to meet the demands of our copolyester markets. We believe this is a technology that will help close a gap in current recycling capabilities.’

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