US chemical firm Eastman is developing a process to recycle polyester plastic waste, breaking down the material through a chemical process so that it can then be used in the production of new polymers.
And the UK is one of the European countries which Eastman is focusing on for the introduction of the chemical recycling process, particularly in light of targets for recycled content in new plastic packaging products.
Polyester plastic is typically found in applications including clothing and as PET in food packaging and plastic water and soft drinks bottles.
A video explaining Eastman’s ‘advanced circular recycling’ process
Using a process known as methanolysis, which sees heat, pressure and methanol applied to the material, Eastman says it can treat low-grade polyester wastes, breaking them down into their constituent ‘polymer building blocks’.
The resulting outputs, which include the monomers dimethyl terephthalate (DMT) and ethylene glycol (EG) can then be used to produce new polymers for use in a wide range of applications.
Although there are established outlets for the mechanical recycling of products such as PET bottles – whereby the material is collected, sorted, washed and shredded or granulated – the process is dependent on the availability of high-quality material feedstocks and the polymers have a finite lifespan.
Chemical recycling is seen as having potential to produce a higher quality output, and can be applied to lower-quality, more contaminated mixed loads. Eastman says that its ‘advanced circular recycling’ process could complement existing mechanical recycling applications.
Mark J. Costa, Eastman’s board chair and chief executive, said: “We recognise that plastic waste is a complex problem that needs advanced solutions. As we have engaged potential partners, it is clear there is high interest across the entire value chain.
“Our long history of technical expertise in chemical processes, including methanolysis, and our leading position in copolyester chemistry, enables us to provide this innovative solution to address the growing challenges of plastic waste in our environment.”Mark J Costa
“Our long history of technical expertise in chemical processes, including methanolysis, and our leading position in copolyester chemistry, enables us to provide this innovative solution to address the growing challenges of plastic waste in our environment.”
Eastman is currently carrying out a feasibility study on the design and construction of a commercial scale methanolysis facility and has says it has engaged in initial discussions with potential partners on the development of such a plant.
Its goal is to be operating a full-scale, advanced circular recycling facility within the next three years.
David A. Golden, the company’s senior vice president, chief legal & sustainability officer, and corporate secretary, said: “We believe we have an obligation to enhance the quality of life in a material way.
“As the desire grows for products that have a sustainable life cycle, Eastman continues to build on its heritage of world-class technology platforms and product innovation to offer solutions at the molecular level. Today, more than ever, the world needs innovation, and Eastman is excited about the possibilities we can achieve by working along the value chain, across industry sectors and with community partners to expand our efforts and make the greatest collective impact.”
Chemical giant Eastman is headquartered in Tennessee and has manufacturing sites across the US as well as in China, Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands and at Newport in South Wales. The company had 2018 revenues of $10 billion.
Eastman Chemical Company