The world has an urgent plastic waste problem. Each year more than 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally, and only about 15% is recycled. This problem is too big for one stakeholder to solve. Industry, government, non-government organizations and others must work together to address this crisis.
Eastman Chemical Co. is uniquely positioned to innovate solutions and catalyze change. For over a decade, we’ve placed sustainability at the heart of how we produce new products right here in Kingsport, where Eastman was founded just over 100 years ago.
At Eastman, we believe in the 3Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle — and we’re investing in technology to enable all three. We’ve launched two molecular recycling technologies at scale and are introducing multiple products in a variety of markets leveraging our scale and integration to enable a truly circular economy.
We recently announced a $250 million investment to build one of the world’s largest plastic-to-plastic molecular recycling facilities in Kingsport. This state-of-the-art facility will convert polyester waste that often ends up in landfills and waterways into durable products. This will be a great investment for our local community and our customers, while also creating small business jobs to develop the recycling infrastructure necessary to support investment in a sustainable future.
Last year, we commercialized two technologies that transform plastic waste into valuable raw material for high-quality polymers to make products like Tritan™ Renew and Cristal™ Renew that are available today.
Eastman also recently established ambitious goals to recycle more than 250 million pounds of waste plastic by 2025 and 500 million by 2030 through molecular recycling technologies that have substantially lower carbon emissions than products made with fossil-based feedstocks. The world needs advanced recycling solutions, like Eastman’s and those of our industry peers.
As we work together to solve this waste crisis, we must also improve our carbon footprint. Eastman’s technologies have a carbon footprint that is 20-30% lower than recycling processes that utilize fossil fuel feedstocks. And, Eastman’s technologies complement existing mechanical or traditional recycling, because we can process poor-quality materials that cannot be otherwise recycled.
Most importantly, our technologies provide an infinite loop for polymers, something that mechanical recycling cannot do by itself.
While there is a significant debate about the role of plastics in our society, plastics are recognized to be a critical enabler to improving our overall quality of life. And plastics are fundamental to addressing some of the most pressing global problems.
For example, there are over 2.2 billion people today that don’t have access to clean drinking water. At Eastman, our customers’ products are focused on the “reuse” part of the 3Rs with durable applications such as reusable hydration bottles, food storage and medical devices.
To create a fully circular economy, we need policies in place that recognize the legitimacy of recycled content from new technologies like Eastman’s molecular recycling. We’ve learned that no collaborative effort is complete without advocacy. We need smart policies that will drive investment in economical, efficient infrastructure that gets more discarded materials into recycling facilities and then back into new, high-quality products.
We are working with waste management companies, nonprofits and local/state governments, and take our inspiration for activating the value chain from states that have enacted smart, effective Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies.
Our plan is to discover and use solutions that work well for us — and to be a model for others in the future.
We also need a more robust recycling infrastructure and a change in consumer behavior. The new administration can help provide the economic policies and incentives for that. We must all come together to build a better, more sustainable future.
We’re addressing climate change with both the actions we’re taking to reduce Eastman’s carbon footprint and by providing products that enable our customers and consumers to reduce their carbon footprint.
Eastman is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. As we set our path to support the Paris Climate Agreement, we expect to achieve one-third of our target by 2030. These reductions will be driven by continued energy efficiency.
Eastman is an eight-time Partner of the Year with the EPA’s Energy Star program. One of the ways we’ve achieved this recognition is by switching out coal-fired boilers to natural gas, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Our energy strategy over the past decade has resulted in progress: We have reduced our absolute greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 10% since 2008.
Eastman is also continuing to invest in renewable energy, and we’re partnering with universities and national laboratories to develop breakthrough technologies that can be deployed at scale to meet the demands of industrial decarbonization.
Eastman has the responsibility to lead and is committed to joining others to mainstream circularity as an economic model and address climate change.
But it’s going to take all of us to build a better future. Learn more at www.eastman.com/buildingbetter.
Mark Costa is the board chair and CEO of Eastman Chemical Co.