KINGSPORT — Growing health concerns over the use of certain plastic bottles could help boost business at Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport.
The bottles in question are made from a hard plastic polycarbonate containing bisphenol A (BPA), a suspected hormone disrupter. Studies have shown that polycarbonate bottles can leach BPA, and extremely worn and scratched bottles pose the biggest concerns.
In response, the Canadian government has announced it will ban baby bottles containing BPA. Wal-Mart plans to pull baby bottles with BPA from its shelves in the United States and Canada. And Nalgene, a major manufacturer of water bottles, has announced plans to discontinue using plastic containing BPA.
Bottles containing BPA are identified by the number 7 in the recycling triangle.
Now some companies are looking at possible alternatives for plastic bottles. And they’re finding one option right here in Kingsport in Eastman’s new Tritan copolyester — a hard, shatter-resistant product that holds many of the same properties as the hard plastic polycarbonate but without the BPA chemical.
Last month, Nalgene introduced a line of bottles made from the Tritan product. CamelBak Products LLC is also using Tritan in its CamelBak Better Bottle product line. Carlisle Food Service Products will use Tritan to produce its line of commercial soup bowls. And Vita-Mix Corp. will produce blender containers for the newly developed Vita-Mix 5200 using the Tritan copolyester.
Eastman introduced Tritan late last year and has since announced plans to expand production of the copolyester here in Kingsport to meet growing customer demand.
“We are excited by the potential for Tritan, and we’re also excited by our customers’ enthusiasm about Tritan as they introduce their new products for the marketplace,” said Eastman spokeswoman Betty Payne.
Deborah Baum Crain, director of copolyester innovation with Eastman’s Specialty Plastics Business Organization, has called the product a “new generation” of copolyester — not just a next generation of a product already in existence.
“New polymers are not invented every day. You just don’t see new things coming out like this in the plastics industry. So it’s pretty unique,” Crain said in an interview late last year.
She said the product delivers the advantages of traditional copolyesters, such as clarity and chemical resistance. But in addition, Tritan offers higher heat resistance, improved design flexibility, and ease of processing.
“The higher temperature resistance is really the differentiator,” Crain said.
“Copolyesters are generally known for being clear and tough and chemical resistant. What this does — when you combine it with higher temperature resistance, you can put it in the dishwasher and not have it deformed,” she said.
Eastman has torn down two old structures — Buildings 108 and 109 in Kingsport — to make way for the new Tritan manufacturing processes.
Meanwhile, Eastman has been working with customers on product development, sharing information with them and getting information on the market’s needs.
As for Eastman’s other plastic products, Payne said the vast majority of them don’t contain BPA. She said Eastman’s plastics that do contain BPA are blends and alloys of copolyesters with polycarbonate, and none of them are used in food packaging.