That Eastman Chemical Co. will invest $250 million to build one of the world’s largest plastic recycling facilities in Kingsport is exciting beyond its economic impact. Eastman’s cutting-edge chemical recycling process holds the promise of keeping untold tons of harmful plastic waste out of the environment.
About 79% of waste plastic currently goes to landfills, or worse, into the oceans. Of the remaining 21%, only 12% of waste plastics can be reused, repurposed or mechanically recycled, while the rest is often burned, according to industry sources.
Plastic is accumulating in the world’s oceans at a staggering rate. An estimated 8 million tons are deliberately dumped or swept into our seas and oceans every single year. Most of it is not biodegradable and can hang around in the environment for hundreds of years. Each year, some 400 million tons of plastic is produced, and nearly half is single-use plastic.
Eastman will help change that through a process known as methanolysis, converting polyester waste that often ends up in landfills and waterways into durable products, initially using more than 100,000 metric tons of plastic waste that cannot be recycled by current mechanical methods to produce premium, high-quality specialty plastics made with recycled content.
In so doing, Eastman hopes to help the environment in other ways, not only reducing the company’s use of fossil feedstocks but also its greenhouse gas emissions by 20-30%. The company expects its molecular recycling initiatives to contribute $600 million of new business revenue in coming years.
Eastman was among pioneers developing methanolysis technology at commercial scale and has more than three decades of expertise in the recycling process.
“While today’s announcement is an important step, it is just part of the company’s overall circular economy strategy,” said Board Chair and CEO Mark Costa. He said Eastman is actively working on the next steps forward with its circular economy initiatives, including partnerships and direct investments in Europe.
The new facility will contribute to the company achieving its ambitious sustainability commitments for addressing the plastic waste crisis, which includes recycling more than 500 million pounds of plastic waste annually by 2030 via molecular recycling technologies.
The company has committed to recycling more than 250 million pounds of plastic waste annually by 2025.
“With the growing demand for products made with recycled content and the urgent need to address the global plastic waste crisis, now is the time for Eastman to take this step,” said Costa. With incentives, “we are able to build this facility in our home state, which we believe positions Tennessee to be a leader in enabling the circular economy and an example for others to follow. 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.”
Eastman’s continued successes not only strengthen the company’s position but advance the region’s economic standing. Northeast Tennessee residents are fortunate that the company continues significant investment in its Kingsport facilities.
Congratulations, Eastman Chemical Co. You do the region and the state proud.