Eastman may be a specialty materials company, but its focus these days is expansive: the well-being of the planet and the sustainability of manufacturing practices.
“We have three main pillars,” Eastman Executive Vice President and Chief Technology & Sustainability Officer Steve Crawford told us. “How do you improve the climate? How do you care for society? And how do you eliminate waste?”
Eastman means to do all three.
Circular economy: Among Eastman’s goals for the foreseeable future is making major strides toward the creation of a circular plastics economy, a model of production and usage that emphasizes the reuse and refurbishment of plastic products over new creation.
- Eastman encourages traditional, also known as mechanical, recycling when it can be used. However, “300 million metric tons of plastic get produced in the world every year, and in the U.S., less than 20% gets collected for mechanical recycling, and less than 10% actually gets recycled,” said Crawford, who has been with Eastman for 35 years. “Most of it ends up in landfills, incinerated or worse.”
Under construction: Eastman, which plans to make its operations carbon-neutral by 2050, is constructing what will be one of the world’s largest plastic to plastic molecular recycling facilities in Kingsport, Tennessee. It is slated for completion by the end of 2022.
- Eastman estimates that by 2025, the facility will be diverting 250 million pounds of plastic waste every year. By 2030, the company plans to make that figure 500 million.
Why it’s important: “Mechanical recycling—where you go out and take items like single-use bottles, chop, wash and re-meld them and put them back into textiles or bottles—can only really address a small portion of the plastics that are out there,” Crawford said. After a few cycles, the polymers in the products degrade and the process is no longer possible.
- Instead, Eastman uses advanced, also known as molecular or chemical, recycling. “We unzip the plastic back to its basic building blocks, then purify those building blocks to create new materials,” Crawford said. This “creates an infinite loop because that polymer can go through that process time and time again.”
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