Episode 224: Biodiversity, climate tech and voices of clean energy equity

June 12, 2020 by  
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Episode 224: Biodiversity, climate tech and voices of clean energy equity Heather Clancy Fri, 06/12/2020 – 02:15 Week in Review Stories discussed this week. Leading the sustainability transformation Funding climate tech and entrepreneurs of color should go hand in hand How sustainability professionals can uplift the black community How on-demand delivery apps could encourage low-carbon food Features A new angel fund dedicated to decarbonization (18:50) Ramez Naam, futurist and board member for Seattle-based angel investor network E8 , chats about the new Decarbon-8 fund and why seeking racially diverse founders will be a priority. “Because if we are going to help some people build companies in this, and they’re going to profit, as the entrepreneurs should, we’d like some of that to go back into those people, in those communities,” he says.  Funding biodiversity (31:14) William Ginn, author of the new book ” Valuing Nature ,” talks with Associate Editor Deonna Anderson about ways the private sector can address biodiversity. Voices of the clean energy equity movement (48:25) GreenBiz Senior Analyst Sarah Golden shares highlights of conversations with Bartees Cox, director of marketing and communications at Groundswell , an organization that brings community solar to low-income customers; Alexis Cureton, former electric vehicle fellow at GRID Alternatives , which works to bring clean energy jobs and access to low-income communities; and Taj Eldridge, senior director of investment at Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. *Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions, AdmiralBob 77, Stefan Kartenburg and Lee Rosevere: “Throughput,” “Our Fingers Cold” and “Hundred Mile — Atmospheric” (Blue Dot); “Two Guitars” (AdmiralBob 77); “The Vendetta,” “Guitale’s Happy Place” and “Arc de Triomphe” (Kartenburg); “Curiosity” and “I’m Going for a Coffee” (Rosevere) *This episode was sponsored by UPS. Virtual conversations Mark your calendar for these upcoming GreenBiz webcasts. Can’t join live? All of these events also will be available on demand. The future of risk assessment. Ideas for building a supply chain resilient to both short-term disruptions such as the pandemic and long-term risks such as climate change. Register here for the session at 1 p.m. EDT June 16. Supply chains and circularity. Join us at 1 p.m. EDT June 23 for a discussion of how companies such as Interface are getting suppliers to buy into circular models for manufacturing, distribution and beyond.  Fleet of clean fleet. Real-life lessons for trucking’s future. Sign up for the conversation at 1 p.m. EDT July 2. Resources galore State of the Profession. Our sixth report examining the evolving role of corporate sustainability leaders. Download it here . The State of Green Business 2020. Our 13th annual analysis of key metrics and trends published here . Do we have a newsletter for you! We produce six weekly newsletters: GreenBuzz by Executive Editor Joel Makower (Monday); Transport Weekly by Senior Writer and Analyst Katie Fehrenbacher (Tuesday); VERGE Weekly by Executive Director Shana Rappaport and Editorial Director Heather Clancy (Wednesday); Energy Weekly by Senior Energy Analyst Sarah Golden (Thursday); Food Weekly by Carbon and Food Analyst Jim Giles (Thursday); and Circular Weekly by Director and Senior Analyst Lauren Phipps (Friday). You must subscribe to each newsletter in order to receive it. Please visit this page to choose which you want to receive. The GreenBiz Intelligence Panel is the survey body we poll regularly throughout the year on key trends and developments in sustainability. To become part of the panel, click here . Enrolling is free and should take two minutes. Stay connected To make sure you don’t miss the newest episodes of GreenBiz 350, subscribe on iTunes . Have a question or suggestion for a future segment? E-mail us at 350@greenbiz.com . Contributors Joel Makower Deonna Anderson Sarah Golden Topics Podcast Energy & Climate Food & Agriculture Equity & Inclusion Environmental Justice Biodiversity Innovation Climate Tech Collective Insight GreenBiz 350 Podcast Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 1:00:19 Sponsored Article Off GreenBiz Close Authorship

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Episode 224: Biodiversity, climate tech and voices of clean energy equity

How COVID-19 can shape the response to climate change

May 13, 2020 by  
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How COVID-19 can shape the response to climate change Terry F. Yosie Wed, 05/13/2020 – 02:31 Part Two of a four-part series. Part One can be found here . As the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to unfold, insights are emerging on how to repurpose what’s been learned for the benefit of climate change mitigation. To date, most of the focus on the pandemic-environment nexus has been short-term. A number of environmental activists, for example, have recommended that temporarily reduced air pollution levels be made permanent through regulatory controls. Conversely, the Trump administration has used the pandemic as an argument to issue an open-ended suspension of the enforcement of environmental laws. These examples reflect the battle lines being drawn for an even larger conflict that is emerging over climate change policy.  Three key facts Three key facts highlight the growing stakes in play for climate change decision making. First, many parallels exist between arguments that deny the existence of climate change and the assertion that COVID-19 is a large-scale hoax designed to reduce personal liberty, confiscate the purchase and use of weapons and alter the traditional American way of life. Using Facebook and YouTube as principal social media organizing platforms and Fox News as a megaphone to broadcast their views, “denialists” have proven their ideology to be adaptable across multiple issues, including climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion and vaccinations against communicable diseases. Recent Washington Post investigations have reported linkages among groups that organize and financially support denialist demonstrations. Some of these groups also fundraise in behalf of the Trump re-election campaign. As the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to unfold, insights are emerging on how to repurpose what’s been learned for the benefit of climate change mitigation. Second, a principal argument used against greenhouse gas controls — that they rely upon data and protocols developed by scientific experts — has garnered substantial public support when applied to combating the COVID-19 pandemic. This result occurs because individual citizens understand that their personal well-being is at risk. Thus, they are more receptive to receiving guidance on how to mitigate this risk from medical professionals that they know of and trust. Also, the medical advice provided is both direct and practical — shelter-in-place, wear a mask, maintain social distancing. A similar opportunity exists to provide more specific climate change mitigation advice from independent scientists and professional bodies directly to citizens whose awareness of climate risks continues to grow. Third, there is overwhelming evidence that both the coronavirus pandemic and climate change damage were knowable and preventable. Numerous scientific reports, intelligence community assessments and public pronouncements from well-known public health or technology authorities such as Bill Gates warned, over a period of years, of the probability of a pandemic. The inability to respond to these warnings represents a system-level failure on the part of those responsible for protecting public health. A similar failure towards a system-level set of risks is unfolding with accelerating climate change. Over the past three decades, an elaborate evidence-based system has been in place for evaluating scientific data, modeling temperature changes and effects as varied as the melting of polar ice caps, sea level rise, heat waves and droughts and the spread of disease vectors. Unlike their health scientist counterparts, climate scientists have encountered a longstanding, organized campaign of skepticism and denial — funded by dark money business interests — about their peer-review procedures and their conclusions. This has resulted in direct harassment of both Individual climate scientists and established scientific bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and has directly slowed policymakers’ and civil society’s ability to respond to life-threatening climate risks. COVID-19 outcomes for climate change planning At this juncture of managing the COVID-19 crisis, three significant outcomes have emerged that can inform responses to the climate crisis: People have connected their personal well-being to expectations of government action. They expect the institutions of government (and civil society organizations) to act on their behalf by defining essential economic activities, providing needed medical infrastructure (hospital capacity, critical supplies and tests) and maintaining civil order. Governmental officials, medical professionals and citizens have embraced the need to “bend the curve” for COVID-19 incidence and mortality. Citizens believe they have a responsibility to each other by sheltering in place, frequently washing their hands, maintaining appropriate distances, limiting their mobility and wearing masks outside of their homes. This has occurred for reasons of self-interest but also stems from moral and ethical values and notions of good citizenship. Actions to bend the climate curve Public support for a goal to “bend the climate curve” can be built but will require national and International efforts to limit/reduce future greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and contain a worldwide temperature increase to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius over the next few decades (the two pre-eminent metrics for measuring success in bending the curve).  Three types of actions are required to achieve this goal: policy initiatives that can acquire sufficient political support to be enacted within the next two years; interventions by investors on climate governance; and behavioral change through moral and ethical appeals to individuals and groups. Policy actions Policy actions should be guided by the “Bill Gates Principle”: People should not waste idealism and energy on a policy that will not cause any reduction in the use of fossil fuels. Policy actions should encompass regulatory, tax and budgetary actions. They include: Rejoining the Paris Climate Accord , with the objective of renegotiating more ambitious climate targets and timetables with added transparency. Setting a U.S. objective of decarbonizing the economy through a policy of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 across all major industry sectors. Appropriate interim objectives also should be established. For example, the U.S. government and the utility industry should establish a goal for phasing out coal-fired power plants by 2030. The Obama administration’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards should be maintained and periodically updated. Removing all energy subsidies , including those for solar and other renewables. The latter have achieved a level of market competitiveness and will succeed in gaining expanded access to various energy markets. Fossil fuel companies, a growing number of which are heavily indebted or experiencing reductions in their customer markets, should compete in the future only on a market-clearing basis and not as rent-seeking enterprises. Avoiding transfer of public funds to large, carbon-intensive companies. Innovation potential is higher when funds are directed at new technology development rather than larger, more heavily capitalized firms with existing access to credit markets. Investor actions Investors have become increasingly active in engaging multinational companies on their environmental, social and governance (ESG) commitments. Their influence is greatly strengthened by the performance of ESG or sustainability fund investment portfolios when compared against traditional benchmarks such as the S&P. Moving forward, investors should be: Intensifying engagement with CEOs and corporate boards on climate governance and commitments. Increasing synergy involving Climate Action 100+ (and allied partners) advocates, ESG-focused investment firms, individual analysts and shareholders have achieved some impressive gains in recent years and should accelerate. Shell Oil Company’s April 16 declaration to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, followed shortly thereafter by a similar announcement by French oil giant Total, are examples of such engagement. Investors should espouse that all Fortune 500 companies achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 with interim, transparent reporting benchmarks established for 2030 and 2040. Advocating the elimination of deferred carried interest. This refers to the preferred tax treatment received by hedge fund and private equity fund managers. Current rules treat carried interest income as a long-term capital gain (taxed at a U.S. rate of 23.8 percent) rather than as ordinary income (subject to a rate of 39.6 percent). This favored tax treatment is completely artificial, and benefits investors primarily interested in accumulating short-term gains rather than longer-term focused portfolios such as investments in sustainable energy. Carried interest deferral also contributes greatly to social inequality. Recommending that the financial transaction tax (FTT) be raised . Presently, each stock transaction is taxed at a rate of 2 cents per $1,000. Raising the FTT to $1 for each $1,000 of transactions will disincentivize high-frequency trading, create fairer markets, encourage longer-term possession of stocks and lessen inequality. Mobilizing citizens Persuasive facts directly engaging citizens must accompany policy and investor actions if a growing public awareness of climate change is to mobilize an aggressive movement to support greenhouse gas reductions. A citizen mobilization strategy should include: Expanding philanthropic support for grassroots citizen participation to distill climate change science into usable, actionable knowledge. This can be done by establishing academic fellowships, research centers and grants to develop position papers and other content; training citizens to participate in government decision making; and multiplying citizens’ voices at the grassroots levels and through social media. Leading philanthropists should pool their resources, using nonprofit, tax-deductible organizations, to invest at least $1 billion annually within the next two years and subsequently. Unlike the “dark money” contributions of foundations, whose aim is to weaken health and environmental protections and sow political divisions, the sources of pro-climate change philanthropy should be completely transparent. Convening community climate risk commissions to evaluate risk scenarios, the resilience of current infrastructure (drinking water systems, the electricity grid, subways and bridges). The outcome of this effort — ideally a collaboration of local governments with universities, nongovernmental organizations, progressive businesses and interested citizens — would be the development of a community climate plan to identify key local risks and recommended priorities and budgets for their resolution. Expanding the moral and ethical rationale for climate actions. The moral basis for reducing climate risks includes: self-preservation of humans and ecosystems that sustain all life forms; expanding economic opportunities that broadens the middle class, expands the social safety net and rewards investors; creating a fair and more equitable society; and protecting the earth for future generations. Coupling moral arguments with expanded economic opportunities (job creation, purchase of newer and cleaner products, investing in companies with highly rated environmental, social and governance portfolios) can unleash powerful incentives at market scale to transform enterprise management and consumer behavior to better manage climate risks. Contemporary society already has entered the era of system-level risk from climate change. By way of context, scientists evaluating the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have concluded that mitigation measures taken in January-February were far more effective in avoiding disease incidence and mortality than later initiatives to self-isolate and shut down non-essential economic activities. In a similar fashion, delays in implementing climate mitigation and adaptation measures across the globe will result only in more draconian setbacks to life as we’ve come to know it. Leadership consists of mobilizing governments, businesses and citizens to support initiatives that can begin to bend the climate curve in the next two years. Pull Quote As the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to unfold, insights are emerging on how to repurpose what’s been learned for the benefit of climate change mitigation. Topics Climate Change COVID-19 Policy & Politics Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock Catherine Zibo Close Authorship

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How COVID-19 can shape the response to climate change

How COVID-19 can shape the response to climate change

May 13, 2020 by  
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How COVID-19 can shape the response to climate change Terry F. Yosie Wed, 05/13/2020 – 02:31 Part Two of a four-part series. Part One can be found here . As the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to unfold, insights are emerging on how to repurpose what’s been learned for the benefit of climate change mitigation. To date, most of the focus on the pandemic-environment nexus has been short-term. A number of environmental activists, for example, have recommended that temporarily reduced air pollution levels be made permanent through regulatory controls. Conversely, the Trump administration has used the pandemic as an argument to issue an open-ended suspension of the enforcement of environmental laws. These examples reflect the battle lines being drawn for an even larger conflict that is emerging over climate change policy.  Three key facts Three key facts highlight the growing stakes in play for climate change decision making. First, many parallels exist between arguments that deny the existence of climate change and the assertion that COVID-19 is a large-scale hoax designed to reduce personal liberty, confiscate the purchase and use of weapons and alter the traditional American way of life. Using Facebook and YouTube as principal social media organizing platforms and Fox News as a megaphone to broadcast their views, “denialists” have proven their ideology to be adaptable across multiple issues, including climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion and vaccinations against communicable diseases. Recent Washington Post investigations have reported linkages among groups that organize and financially support denialist demonstrations. Some of these groups also fundraise in behalf of the Trump re-election campaign. As the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to unfold, insights are emerging on how to repurpose what’s been learned for the benefit of climate change mitigation. Second, a principal argument used against greenhouse gas controls — that they rely upon data and protocols developed by scientific experts — has garnered substantial public support when applied to combating the COVID-19 pandemic. This result occurs because individual citizens understand that their personal well-being is at risk. Thus, they are more receptive to receiving guidance on how to mitigate this risk from medical professionals that they know of and trust. Also, the medical advice provided is both direct and practical — shelter-in-place, wear a mask, maintain social distancing. A similar opportunity exists to provide more specific climate change mitigation advice from independent scientists and professional bodies directly to citizens whose awareness of climate risks continues to grow. Third, there is overwhelming evidence that both the coronavirus pandemic and climate change damage were knowable and preventable. Numerous scientific reports, intelligence community assessments and public pronouncements from well-known public health or technology authorities such as Bill Gates warned, over a period of years, of the probability of a pandemic. The inability to respond to these warnings represents a system-level failure on the part of those responsible for protecting public health. A similar failure towards a system-level set of risks is unfolding with accelerating climate change. Over the past three decades, an elaborate evidence-based system has been in place for evaluating scientific data, modeling temperature changes and effects as varied as the melting of polar ice caps, sea level rise, heat waves and droughts and the spread of disease vectors. Unlike their health scientist counterparts, climate scientists have encountered a longstanding, organized campaign of skepticism and denial — funded by dark money business interests — about their peer-review procedures and their conclusions. This has resulted in direct harassment of both Individual climate scientists and established scientific bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and has directly slowed policymakers’ and civil society’s ability to respond to life-threatening climate risks. COVID-19 outcomes for climate change planning At this juncture of managing the COVID-19 crisis, three significant outcomes have emerged that can inform responses to the climate crisis: People have connected their personal well-being to expectations of government action. They expect the institutions of government (and civil society organizations) to act on their behalf by defining essential economic activities, providing needed medical infrastructure (hospital capacity, critical supplies and tests) and maintaining civil order. Governmental officials, medical professionals and citizens have embraced the need to “bend the curve” for COVID-19 incidence and mortality. Citizens believe they have a responsibility to each other by sheltering in place, frequently washing their hands, maintaining appropriate distances, limiting their mobility and wearing masks outside of their homes. This has occurred for reasons of self-interest but also stems from moral and ethical values and notions of good citizenship. Actions to bend the climate curve Public support for a goal to “bend the climate curve” can be built but will require national and International efforts to limit/reduce future greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and contain a worldwide temperature increase to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius over the next few decades (the two pre-eminent metrics for measuring success in bending the curve).  Three types of actions are required to achieve this goal: policy initiatives that can acquire sufficient political support to be enacted within the next two years; interventions by investors on climate governance; and behavioral change through moral and ethical appeals to individuals and groups. Policy actions Policy actions should be guided by the “Bill Gates Principle”: People should not waste idealism and energy on a policy that will not cause any reduction in the use of fossil fuels. Policy actions should encompass regulatory, tax and budgetary actions. They include: Rejoining the Paris Climate Accord , with the objective of renegotiating more ambitious climate targets and timetables with added transparency. Setting a U.S. objective of decarbonizing the economy through a policy of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 across all major industry sectors. Appropriate interim objectives also should be established. For example, the U.S. government and the utility industry should establish a goal for phasing out coal-fired power plants by 2030. The Obama administration’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards should be maintained and periodically updated. Removing all energy subsidies , including those for solar and other renewables. The latter have achieved a level of market competitiveness and will succeed in gaining expanded access to various energy markets. Fossil fuel companies, a growing number of which are heavily indebted or experiencing reductions in their customer markets, should compete in the future only on a market-clearing basis and not as rent-seeking enterprises. Avoiding transfer of public funds to large, carbon-intensive companies. Innovation potential is higher when funds are directed at new technology development rather than larger, more heavily capitalized firms with existing access to credit markets. Investor actions Investors have become increasingly active in engaging multinational companies on their environmental, social and governance (ESG) commitments. Their influence is greatly strengthened by the performance of ESG or sustainability fund investment portfolios when compared against traditional benchmarks such as the S&P. Moving forward, investors should be: Intensifying engagement with CEOs and corporate boards on climate governance and commitments. Increasing synergy involving Climate Action 100+ (and allied partners) advocates, ESG-focused investment firms, individual analysts and shareholders have achieved some impressive gains in recent years and should accelerate. Shell Oil Company’s April 16 declaration to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, followed shortly thereafter by a similar announcement by French oil giant Total, are examples of such engagement. Investors should espouse that all Fortune 500 companies achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 with interim, transparent reporting benchmarks established for 2030 and 2040. Advocating the elimination of deferred carried interest. This refers to the preferred tax treatment received by hedge fund and private equity fund managers. Current rules treat carried interest income as a long-term capital gain (taxed at a U.S. rate of 23.8 percent) rather than as ordinary income (subject to a rate of 39.6 percent). This favored tax treatment is completely artificial, and benefits investors primarily interested in accumulating short-term gains rather than longer-term focused portfolios such as investments in sustainable energy. Carried interest deferral also contributes greatly to social inequality. Recommending that the financial transaction tax (FTT) be raised . Presently, each stock transaction is taxed at a rate of 2 cents per $1,000. Raising the FTT to $1 for each $1,000 of transactions will disincentivize high-frequency trading, create fairer markets, encourage longer-term possession of stocks and lessen inequality. Mobilizing citizens Persuasive facts directly engaging citizens must accompany policy and investor actions if a growing public awareness of climate change is to mobilize an aggressive movement to support greenhouse gas reductions. A citizen mobilization strategy should include: Expanding philanthropic support for grassroots citizen participation to distill climate change science into usable, actionable knowledge. This can be done by establishing academic fellowships, research centers and grants to develop position papers and other content; training citizens to participate in government decision making; and multiplying citizens’ voices at the grassroots levels and through social media. Leading philanthropists should pool their resources, using nonprofit, tax-deductible organizations, to invest at least $1 billion annually within the next two years and subsequently. Unlike the “dark money” contributions of foundations, whose aim is to weaken health and environmental protections and sow political divisions, the sources of pro-climate change philanthropy should be completely transparent. Convening community climate risk commissions to evaluate risk scenarios, the resilience of current infrastructure (drinking water systems, the electricity grid, subways and bridges). The outcome of this effort — ideally a collaboration of local governments with universities, nongovernmental organizations, progressive businesses and interested citizens — would be the development of a community climate plan to identify key local risks and recommended priorities and budgets for their resolution. Expanding the moral and ethical rationale for climate actions. The moral basis for reducing climate risks includes: self-preservation of humans and ecosystems that sustain all life forms; expanding economic opportunities that broadens the middle class, expands the social safety net and rewards investors; creating a fair and more equitable society; and protecting the earth for future generations. Coupling moral arguments with expanded economic opportunities (job creation, purchase of newer and cleaner products, investing in companies with highly rated environmental, social and governance portfolios) can unleash powerful incentives at market scale to transform enterprise management and consumer behavior to better manage climate risks. Contemporary society already has entered the era of system-level risk from climate change. By way of context, scientists evaluating the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have concluded that mitigation measures taken in January-February were far more effective in avoiding disease incidence and mortality than later initiatives to self-isolate and shut down non-essential economic activities. In a similar fashion, delays in implementing climate mitigation and adaptation measures across the globe will result only in more draconian setbacks to life as we’ve come to know it. Leadership consists of mobilizing governments, businesses and citizens to support initiatives that can begin to bend the climate curve in the next two years. Pull Quote As the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to unfold, insights are emerging on how to repurpose what’s been learned for the benefit of climate change mitigation. Topics Climate Change COVID-19 Policy & Politics Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock Catherine Zibo Close Authorship

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How COVID-19 can shape the response to climate change

Inside Eastman’s moonshot goal for endlessly circular plastics

May 11, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green, Recycle

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Inside Eastman’s moonshot goal for endlessly circular plastics Joel Makower Mon, 05/11/2020 – 00:44 At first glance, the sprawling industrial site, covering roughly 900 acres in Kingsport, Tennessee, appears to be just another chemical manufacturing facility. There are hundreds of buildings and countless miles of pipes, conveyors, distillers, cooling towers, valves, pumps, compressors and controls. It doesn’t exactly look or feel particularly noteworthy. But something extraordinary is going on at this Eastman chemical plant: two breakthrough processes to turn waste plastics of all kinds back into new plastics, continuously, with no loss of quality. Last year, the company announced two major initiatives: Carbon renewal technology , or CRT, which breaks down waste plastic feedstocks to the molecular level before using them as building blocks to produce a wide range of materials and packaging. The company claims this enables waste plastics to be recycled an infinite number of times without degradation of quality. Polyester renewal technology , or PRT, which involves taking waste polyesters from landfills and other waste streams and transforming them back into a raw material that the company claims is indistinguishable from polyester produced from fossil-fuel feedstocks. With both CRT and PRT, hard-to-recycle plastics can be recycled an infinite number of times, says Eastman, creating products that can claim high levels of certified recycled content — a true closed loop. Both technologies are or will be hitting the market, so it is too soon to call them a success. Still, they represent a story about a legacy industrial company seeking to reinvent itself by simultaneously addressing the climate crisis, the scourge of plastic waste and the need to accelerate resource efficiency to meet the material needs of 10 billion people by mid-century. If it works, this old-line corporate icon could find itself a leading light in the emerging circular economy . Chemical reaction Eastman, celebrating its centennial this year, was founded by George Eastman, the entrepreneur who, in the late 1880s, started the Eastman Kodak Company. (“Kodak” was a made-up word he appended to his last name.) Along the way, he nearly singlehandedly democratized photography (and spawned countless “Kodak moments” ) through the company’s production of cameras, film, processing chemicals and related goods and services. In 1920, in the wake of World War I, Eastman’s company was suffering a scarcity of raw materials, including photographic paper, optical glass and gelatin, and many chemicals — such as methanol, acetic acid and acetone — needed to produce and process film stock and prints. He determined that ensuring his company’s future would require self-reliance. He set out to find a suitable location for a Kodak-owned and operated chemical production facility. If it works, this old-line corporate icon could find itself a leading light in the emerging circular economy. Kingsport proved to be the right spot, situated in what is known as the Mountain Empire, which spans a portion of southwest Virginia and the mountainous counties in northeastern Tennessee. It had ready access to two key commodities vital to Kodak: wood fiber to make cellulose, the key material in photographic film; and coal, which powered its boilers to make steam and electricity, and later would be used to produce synthetic gas — syngas — to create the acetyl chemicals needed to make films, plastics and textiles. From those two feedstocks, Eastman Chemical, a subsidiary of Kodak, grew to become an economic powerhouse in the Mountain Empire, expanding into its own empire of more than 50 manufacturing sites worldwide. The company adapted to, and prospered from, the changing times. By the late 1920s, for example, the demand for home movie film and the growing need for X-ray film led Eastman Chemical to produce acetic anhydride, the base material for photographic emulsions. In the 1930s, the company turned to producing cellulose acetate to make textile fibers. The automobile boom of the 1940s and 1950s led Eastman to produce chemicals and materials critical to automotive design and production. During World War II, the Kingsport site infamously was used to make RDX, a powerful explosive — a million and a half pounds a day, at its peak. By the end of World War II, Eastman was managing a project to produce enriched uranium for the Manhattan Project. After the war, polyester fibers for textiles and other products became, and remain, a significant line of business. George Eastman didn’t live to see much of the success he catalyzed. He died in 1932 by suicide, a single bullet to the heart. In the 1990s, Kodak’s photography business darkened with the advent of digital cameras — the company was slow to adapt and got run over by more nimble competitors — and the company spun off its chemical division in 1994 to help pay down debt. (Eastman, the company, has dropped “chemical” from its branding, although not from its legally incorporated name.) Eastman’s latest innovations, as well as its pivot to make sustainability core to its strategy, has been energized by its current chairman and CEO, Mark Costa. A former management consultant — Eastman was one of his clients — and brandishing degrees from both Berkeley and Harvard, Costa joined the company in 2006 to lead strategy, marketing and business development before ascending to the corner office in 2014. Under his leadership, the company has accelerated its transformation from chemicals to specialty materials. “When we came out of the great recession in 2009 and were starting to think about our innovation portfolio, we were already thinking about sustainability in a very serious way,” Costa told me over lunch in his office in early March, with a sweeping view of a nature preserve and park deeded by Eastman to the city of Kingsport. “We knew that the circular economy and being a lot more efficient with carbon was a good idea.” Media Authorship Mark Costa, Courtesy of Eastman Close Authorship Eastman CEO Mark Costa (Photo courtesy of Eastman) “This idea of circularity isn’t new to us,” he added. “In all of our innovation — I had the responsibility for the innovation portfolio since 2009 — we required everything that we did be tied to a sustainability driver. All the way back then.” Plastic to plastic Eastman’s two new “renewal” technologies are, to some degree, natural extensions of products and services that have long been part of Eastman’s toolkit. Now, repurposed and modified for an era of sustainability and circularity, they position the company to address one of the holy grails of the circular economy: turning waste plastic back into new plastic with the same performance and quality characteristics. The rising attention being paid to the global plastic waste problem has illuminated many serious challenges of collecting, sorting and recycling plastic back into new plastic in a continuously closed loop.  For starters, only a couple kinds of plastics are being regularly collected and recycled, based on available infrastructure and market demand: PET and HDPE — Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the SPI resin identification codes developed in the late 1980s by the Society of the Plastics Industry. Most of the others — SPI Nos. 3 through 7 — are technically possible to recycle but lack both infrastructure and markets in most places. Worst of all is the growing mountain of packaging that is multi-material — layers upon layers of mixed polymers, papers, laminates and foils — in the form of juice boxes, ketchup packets, toothpaste tubes and countless other things. These Franken-materials are a nonstarter for most modern recycling systems. The best one can hope is that they be downcycled into some durable product — say, artificial turf, plastic furniture or an automobile fan blade — which itself will wear out eventually, ending up as nonrecyclable waste in a landfill. But only a tiny fraction of these plastics ever escape landfills as their final resting place. Eastman’s ability to turn all plastics back into their constituent molecules is a potential game-changer. Sorting all these plastics is another issue. Even if plastics 3 through 7 were readily recyclable, keeping various polymer types separate from one another is a highly labor-intensive task, assuming the infrastructure was even there to handle it. And given the historically low price of oil, even before the recent market crash, recycled plastic remains uncompetitive to virgin for many applications. Those petrochemicals are just too darn cheap. So, Eastman’s ability to turn all waste plastics back into their constituent molecules and back into productive use is a potential game-changer. A primer There are two basic ways to recycle plastics: mechanical and chemical. The former is most commonly used with soda bottles (PET) and milk jugs (HDPE) — plastics 1 and 2, respectively. It involves grinding, washing, separating, drying, regranulating and compounding waste plastic to create new raw materials. Mechanical recycling can be cost-effective but has limits and disadvantages: The process is heat-intensive — and, therefore, energy- and carbon-intensive — and produces air pollutants. Contamination by food and other foreign materials is another problem that literally gums up the works. And after plastic has been mechanically recycled once, it’s rarely suitable for another round of recycling. This means that the recycled material eventually will end up in waste streams. And there are physical limits to how recycled plastics produced through mechanical methods can be used in manufacturing. “You can only get up to maybe 50 percent recycled content in a bottle with mechanical, where you really start getting a pretty ugly product and all kinds of other performance issues,” Costa said. “So, there’s going to be sort of a quality performance limitation.” An alternative is chemical recycling, a technology that has been around since the 1950s but has become the focus of growing investment and innovation as the circular economy has gained steam. Plastic makers including BP and Dow, and consumer packaged goods companies such as Coca-Cola, Danone and Unilever, are testing or investing tens of millions of dollars in the technology, according to the Wall Street Journal . In chemical recycling, depolymerization breaks down plastics into their raw materials for conversion back into new polymers. Pyrolysis — heating of an organic material in the absence of oxygen — can turn mixed plastic waste into naphtha, which can be transformed back into petrochemicals and plastics. With only about 9 percent of the more than 400 million tons of plastic waste produced globally each year currently being recycled, according to U.N. Environment , that leaves the other 90 percent or so as potential feedstock.  There’s big potential here, according to a 2019 report from the American Chemistry Council. It found that if widely adopted, chemical recycling — which it refers to as “advanced plastic recycling and recovery” — could create nearly 40,000 direct and indirect U.S. jobs, as much as $2.2 billion in annual payroll and $9.9 billion in direct and indirect economic output.  Calling on the carpet Eastman’s carbon renewal and polyester renewal technologies are forms of chemical recycling. But they aren’t intended simply to displace mechanical recycling. For PET and HDPE plastics, mechanical recycling already is reasonably efficient, creating recycled materials streams that have proven cost-competitive in many markets. “We don’t want to compete with that,” Costa said. “Frankly, the value of it is too high. From a sustainability point of view, you shouldn’t touch it.” Media Authorship Courtesy of Eastman Close Authorship Besides, there’s a much bigger opportunity. Eastman’s Polyester Renewal Technology is a chemical recycling process specifically for polyester waste, which produces virgin-like materials, even from colored PET, according to Eastman. The process involves using glycolysis — the breakdown of PET by ethylene glycol — to disassemble waste PET into its fundamental building blocks. Those building blocks then can be reassembled to produce new polyesters with high levels of recycled content. In its search for waste plastics, Eastman easily can forgo tapping into recycling markets for plastic water and soda bottles. There are plenty of other sources of waste polyester — from carpets, for example. In one recent initiative, Eastman partnered with Circular Polymers , a company that reclaims post-consumer products for recycling. Circular Polymers is collecting and densifying the PET it retrieves from waste carpeting. It then converts the PET waste into pellets, which are shipped by railroad from its plant in California to Eastman in Tennessee. Eastman uses its CRT process to turn the pellets into new materials with certified recycled content. Those materials end up in textiles, packaging for cosmetics and personal care products, and eyeglass frames. Costa says Eastman could divert millions of pounds of carpeting a year through partnerships such as this, although that’s still a mere fraction of the more than 3 billion pounds of carpet sent to landfills in 2018, just in the United States, according to Carpet America Recovery Effort , an industry group. And it’s not just polyester. Eastman sees potentially unlimited opportunity in all the other types of plastic waste — especially the stuff that’s hard to recycle, from a cost and logistics perspective, including those dreaded Franken-materials. The company’s goal is to extract the value of the carbon molecules contained in these waste materials and put them back into productive use as like-new plastics. Said Costa: “If there’s a way to bring carbon back in through products that’s better than the fossil-fuel approach of the linear economy, we should do that, right? I mean, this isn’t complicated.” Fashion forward Eastman’s goal is to substitute its “carbon renewal” materials for their virgin counterparts wherever they are economically viable. Beyond pure economics, Costa described to me Eastman’s three criteria for determining when it makes sense, from both a business and ecological perspective, to recycle waste plastic. First, the waste has to go back into products — not be incinerated or burned to make energy. Second, the carbon footprint of the recycled material must be better than its fossil-fuel equivalent, based on life-cycle analysis. And third, “Consumers shouldn’t give up a lot in their quality of life.” That is, few if any tradeoffs in price or performance. So far, CRT and PRT processes are finding their way into several of Eastman’s many brands of polymers, including Tr?va, a cellulose-based thermoplastic made from trees, used in automotive, packaging and electronics applications; CDA, a bio-derived material, used in injection-molded applications, such as ophthalmic frames and tool handles; Cristal, designed and engineered specifically for high-end cosmetics packaging applications; and Tritan, a durable clear plastic used to make Camelbak and Nalgene water bottles, and Rubbermaid food storage containers. And then there is Naia , a fiber made from certified sustainably managed pine and eucalyptus plantations, widely used in the fashion industry. It is essentially cellulose acetate, the same material used in photographic film, being made by Eastman in Kingsport for about 100 years. In this case, it is spun into a yarn that is used to make fabric. Naia is made in a closed-loop process, in which chemical inputs — acetic acid and acetone — are continuously recycled. Naia is made in a closed-loop process, in which chemical inputs — acetic acid and acetone — continuously are recycled. According to company marketing materials, it compares favorably to silk, cotton, viscose filaments and polyester in terms of environmental impacts — water usage, climate emissions, ecosystem disruption — and feel. Its yarn can be knitted or woven and easily blended with other fibers. Garments made with Naia are easy to home-launder compared with many fashion-forward fabrics, which require dry cleaning, says Eastman. The company claims that Naia produces no microfibers when washed. There’s one big challenge from a sustainability perspective, however: The fossil fuels used as a feedstock to produce the syngas to make one of the principal ingredients for Naia. Eastman’s Naia textile yarn for fashion. (Photo courtesy of Eastman) Eastman is developing the technology to eliminate the fossil fuels from Naia production, replacing them with gases derived from breaking down waste plastics, a process called reforming, a carbon renewal technology . The resulting product, Naia Renew, is being launched this fall. The company describes it as “a cellulosic yarn sourced from 100 percent circular content, produced from 60 percent certified wood fibers and 40 percent recycle waste plastics.” Used textiles are another potential feedstock for Naia, creating a virtuous cycle that turns no-longer-wearable garments back into new ones. Eastman is in discussions with leading fashion brands about the potential of take-back programs in the future, Steve Crawford, Eastman’s chief technology and sustainability officer, told me during my visit. “They could collect the garments, send them to us, and we could make them back into the same fiber to make new garments.” Mining landfills? There’s yet another disruptive opportunity here: mining landfills to cull plastic waste to be “renewed” through Eastman’s processes. The company says it is working closely with waste management companies to evaluate how to create the availability of such feedstock. “As part of our work, there’s a lot of focus on how we partner, how we collaborate with the parties in this space,” explained Cathy Combs, Eastman’s director of sustainability. “How do we create an infrastructure that will be able to supply chemical recycling?”  “We’ve demonstrated that the new Eastman recycling technologies are capable of utilizing a broad array of waste plastics, including plastics that aren’t currently utilized in mechanical recycling,” Crawford added. “But we’ll need to partner with key players in both the waste collection and waste management systems, and key end-use value chains. We also need brands to help create demand for these materials to become valuable sources of feedstocks for these new technologies.” Of course, all of this innovation is taking place amid a pandemic, not to mention what appears to be a global recession. The textiles sector, like most others, has taken a hit from COVID-19, with a dramatic slowdown in global retail sales resulting in global supply-chain disruption, furloughs throughout the value chain and mounting inventories and liquidity challenges. But industry participants and influencers believe the textiles industry will emerge with an increased emphasis on sustainability as the industry rebuilds, said Jon Woods, Eastman’s general manager of textiles and nonwovens. Mark Costa, for his part, remains bullish on the company’s future, including on the impact the company could have both locally and globally — particularly in the economic development that come from mining plastics from local waste streams. “I think there’s going to be real economic opportunity, and a lot of small-business job creation — which is great for this country as well as in Europe — who are going to jump into this,” he told me. “I mean, the waste management guys will do it, and they’ll be big and at scale. But there’s also a lot of opportunity for local, small businesses to work with municipalities on how to do that. And just like we saw with carpet and the way they densified it, people are going to get creative. Once there’s policy and economic incentive, that’s what America does great.” There’s going to be real economic opportunity, and a lot of small-business job creation — which is great for this country as well as in Europe — who are going to jump into this. Costa believes that technologies such as CRT and PRT can give new life to plastics recycling if they can dramatically improve its economics. “The aluminum guys would have never succeeded if they could only take 10 to 20 percent of the aluminum and had to throw away 80 percent. I doubt you’d have high aluminum recycling rates because you just couldn’t justify the effort.” And, he added, some of Eastman’s sustainability and circular ingenuity just might rub off on the beleaguered chemical sector. “Everyone wants to focus on the things that are negative about the chemical industry, and we have lots of room for improvement. So, how do we collaborate to take this seriously, which I think the industry very much does right now, and solve the next set of solutions to make the environment better at the same time as you’re improving quality of life? That’s our ultimate goal. That’s what we get up every day trying to focus on doing.” I invite you to follow me on Twitter , subscribe to my Monday morning newsletter, GreenBuzz , and listen to GreenBiz 350 , my weekly podcast, co-hosted with Heather Clancy. Pull Quote If it works, this old-line corporate icon could find itself a leading light in the emerging circular economy. Eastman’s ability to turn all plastics back into their constituent molecules is a potential game-changer. Naia is made in a closed-loop process, in which chemical inputs — acetic acid and acetone — are continuously recycled. There’s going to be real economic opportunity, and a lot of small-business job creation — which is great for this country as well as in Europe — who are going to jump into this. Topics Circular Economy Leadership Plastic Waste Recycling Featured Column Two Steps Forward Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off An aerial view of Eastman’s Kingsport, Tennessee headquarters facility. Courtesy Eastman Close Authorship

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Inside Eastman’s moonshot goal for endlessly circular plastics

Inside Eastman’s moonshot goal for endlessly circular plastics

May 11, 2020 by  
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Inside Eastman’s moonshot goal for endlessly circular plastics Joel Makower Mon, 05/11/2020 – 00:44 At first glance, the sprawling industrial site, covering roughly 900 acres in Kingsport, Tennessee, appears to be just another chemical manufacturing facility. There are hundreds of buildings and countless miles of pipes, conveyors, distillers, cooling towers, valves, pumps, compressors and controls. It doesn’t exactly look or feel particularly noteworthy. But something extraordinary is going on at this Eastman chemical plant: two breakthrough processes to turn waste plastics of all kinds back into new plastics, continuously, with no loss of quality. Last year, the company announced two major initiatives: Carbon renewal technology , or CRT, which breaks down waste plastic feedstocks to the molecular level before using them as building blocks to produce a wide range of materials and packaging. The company claims this enables waste plastics to be recycled an infinite number of times without degradation of quality. Polyester renewal technology , or PRT, which involves taking waste polyesters from landfills and other waste streams and transforming them back into a raw material that the company claims is indistinguishable from polyester produced from fossil-fuel feedstocks. With both CRT and PRT, hard-to-recycle plastics can be recycled an infinite number of times, says Eastman, creating products that can claim high levels of certified recycled content — a true closed loop. Both technologies are or will be hitting the market, so it is too soon to call them a success. Still, they represent a story about a legacy industrial company seeking to reinvent itself by simultaneously addressing the climate crisis, the scourge of plastic waste and the need to accelerate resource efficiency to meet the material needs of 10 billion people by mid-century. If it works, this old-line corporate icon could find itself a leading light in the emerging circular economy . Chemical reaction Eastman, celebrating its centennial this year, was founded by George Eastman, the entrepreneur who, in the late 1880s, started the Eastman Kodak Company. (“Kodak” was a made-up word he appended to his last name.) Along the way, he nearly singlehandedly democratized photography (and spawned countless “Kodak moments” ) through the company’s production of cameras, film, processing chemicals and related goods and services. In 1920, in the wake of World War I, Eastman’s company was suffering a scarcity of raw materials, including photographic paper, optical glass and gelatin, and many chemicals — such as methanol, acetic acid and acetone — needed to produce and process film stock and prints. He determined that ensuring his company’s future would require self-reliance. He set out to find a suitable location for a Kodak-owned and operated chemical production facility. If it works, this old-line corporate icon could find itself a leading light in the emerging circular economy. Kingsport proved to be the right spot, situated in what is known as the Mountain Empire, which spans a portion of southwest Virginia and the mountainous counties in northeastern Tennessee. It had ready access to two key commodities vital to Kodak: wood fiber to make cellulose, the key material in photographic film; and coal, which powered its boilers to make steam and electricity, and later would be used to produce synthetic gas — syngas — to create the acetyl chemicals needed to make films, plastics and textiles. From those two feedstocks, Eastman Chemical, a subsidiary of Kodak, grew to become an economic powerhouse in the Mountain Empire, expanding into its own empire of more than 50 manufacturing sites worldwide. The company adapted to, and prospered from, the changing times. By the late 1920s, for example, the demand for home movie film and the growing need for X-ray film led Eastman Chemical to produce acetic anhydride, the base material for photographic emulsions. In the 1930s, the company turned to producing cellulose acetate to make textile fibers. The automobile boom of the 1940s and 1950s led Eastman to produce chemicals and materials critical to automotive design and production. During World War II, the Kingsport site infamously was used to make RDX, a powerful explosive — a million and a half pounds a day, at its peak. By the end of World War II, Eastman was managing a project to produce enriched uranium for the Manhattan Project. After the war, polyester fibers for textiles and other products became, and remain, a significant line of business. George Eastman didn’t live to see much of the success he catalyzed. He died in 1932 by suicide, a single bullet to the heart. In the 1990s, Kodak’s photography business darkened with the advent of digital cameras — the company was slow to adapt and got run over by more nimble competitors — and the company spun off its chemical division in 1994 to help pay down debt. (Eastman, the company, has dropped “chemical” from its branding, although not from its legally incorporated name.) Eastman’s latest innovations, as well as its pivot to make sustainability core to its strategy, has been energized by its current chairman and CEO, Mark Costa. A former management consultant — Eastman was one of his clients — and brandishing degrees from both Berkeley and Harvard, Costa joined the company in 2006 to lead strategy, marketing and business development before ascending to the corner office in 2014. Under his leadership, the company has accelerated its transformation from chemicals to specialty materials. “When we came out of the great recession in 2009 and were starting to think about our innovation portfolio, we were already thinking about sustainability in a very serious way,” Costa told me over lunch in his office in early March, with a sweeping view of a nature preserve and park deeded by Eastman to the city of Kingsport. “We knew that the circular economy and being a lot more efficient with carbon was a good idea.” Media Authorship Mark Costa, Courtesy of Eastman Close Authorship Eastman CEO Mark Costa (Photo courtesy of Eastman) “This idea of circularity isn’t new to us,” he added. “In all of our innovation — I had the responsibility for the innovation portfolio since 2009 — we required everything that we did be tied to a sustainability driver. All the way back then.” Plastic to plastic Eastman’s two new “renewal” technologies are, to some degree, natural extensions of products and services that have long been part of Eastman’s toolkit. Now, repurposed and modified for an era of sustainability and circularity, they position the company to address one of the holy grails of the circular economy: turning waste plastic back into new plastic with the same performance and quality characteristics. The rising attention being paid to the global plastic waste problem has illuminated many serious challenges of collecting, sorting and recycling plastic back into new plastic in a continuously closed loop.  For starters, only a couple kinds of plastics are being regularly collected and recycled, based on available infrastructure and market demand: PET and HDPE — Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the SPI resin identification codes developed in the late 1980s by the Society of the Plastics Industry. Most of the others — SPI Nos. 3 through 7 — are technically possible to recycle but lack both infrastructure and markets in most places. Worst of all is the growing mountain of packaging that is multi-material — layers upon layers of mixed polymers, papers, laminates and foils — in the form of juice boxes, ketchup packets, toothpaste tubes and countless other things. These Franken-materials are a nonstarter for most modern recycling systems. The best one can hope is that they be downcycled into some durable product — say, artificial turf, plastic furniture or an automobile fan blade — which itself will wear out eventually, ending up as nonrecyclable waste in a landfill. But only a tiny fraction of these plastics ever escape landfills as their final resting place. Eastman’s ability to turn all plastics back into their constituent molecules is a potential game-changer. Sorting all these plastics is another issue. Even if plastics 3 through 7 were readily recyclable, keeping various polymer types separate from one another is a highly labor-intensive task, assuming the infrastructure was even there to handle it. And given the historically low price of oil, even before the recent market crash, recycled plastic remains uncompetitive to virgin for many applications. Those petrochemicals are just too darn cheap. So, Eastman’s ability to turn all waste plastics back into their constituent molecules and back into productive use is a potential game-changer. A primer There are two basic ways to recycle plastics: mechanical and chemical. The former is most commonly used with soda bottles (PET) and milk jugs (HDPE) — plastics 1 and 2, respectively. It involves grinding, washing, separating, drying, regranulating and compounding waste plastic to create new raw materials. Mechanical recycling can be cost-effective but has limits and disadvantages: The process is heat-intensive — and, therefore, energy- and carbon-intensive — and produces air pollutants. Contamination by food and other foreign materials is another problem that literally gums up the works. And after plastic has been mechanically recycled once, it’s rarely suitable for another round of recycling. This means that the recycled material eventually will end up in waste streams. And there are physical limits to how recycled plastics produced through mechanical methods can be used in manufacturing. “You can only get up to maybe 50 percent recycled content in a bottle with mechanical, where you really start getting a pretty ugly product and all kinds of other performance issues,” Costa said. “So, there’s going to be sort of a quality performance limitation.” An alternative is chemical recycling, a technology that has been around since the 1950s but has become the focus of growing investment and innovation as the circular economy has gained steam. Plastic makers including BP and Dow, and consumer packaged goods companies such as Coca-Cola, Danone and Unilever, are testing or investing tens of millions of dollars in the technology, according to the Wall Street Journal . In chemical recycling, depolymerization breaks down plastics into their raw materials for conversion back into new polymers. Pyrolysis — heating of an organic material in the absence of oxygen — can turn mixed plastic waste into naphtha, which can be transformed back into petrochemicals and plastics. With only about 9 percent of the more than 400 million tons of plastic waste produced globally each year currently being recycled, according to U.N. Environment , that leaves the other 90 percent or so as potential feedstock.  There’s big potential here, according to a 2019 report from the American Chemistry Council. It found that if widely adopted, chemical recycling — which it refers to as “advanced plastic recycling and recovery” — could create nearly 40,000 direct and indirect U.S. jobs, as much as $2.2 billion in annual payroll and $9.9 billion in direct and indirect economic output.  Calling on the carpet Eastman’s carbon renewal and polyester renewal technologies are forms of chemical recycling. But they aren’t intended simply to displace mechanical recycling. For PET and HDPE plastics, mechanical recycling already is reasonably efficient, creating recycled materials streams that have proven cost-competitive in many markets. “We don’t want to compete with that,” Costa said. “Frankly, the value of it is too high. From a sustainability point of view, you shouldn’t touch it.” Media Authorship Courtesy of Eastman Close Authorship Besides, there’s a much bigger opportunity. Eastman’s Polyester Renewal Technology is a chemical recycling process specifically for polyester waste, which produces virgin-like materials, even from colored PET, according to Eastman. The process involves using glycolysis — the breakdown of PET by ethylene glycol — to disassemble waste PET into its fundamental building blocks. Those building blocks then can be reassembled to produce new polyesters with high levels of recycled content. In its search for waste plastics, Eastman easily can forgo tapping into recycling markets for plastic water and soda bottles. There are plenty of other sources of waste polyester — from carpets, for example. In one recent initiative, Eastman partnered with Circular Polymers , a company that reclaims post-consumer products for recycling. Circular Polymers is collecting and densifying the PET it retrieves from waste carpeting. It then converts the PET waste into pellets, which are shipped by railroad from its plant in California to Eastman in Tennessee. Eastman uses its CRT process to turn the pellets into new materials with certified recycled content. Those materials end up in textiles, packaging for cosmetics and personal care products, and eyeglass frames. Costa says Eastman could divert millions of pounds of carpeting a year through partnerships such as this, although that’s still a mere fraction of the more than 3 billion pounds of carpet sent to landfills in 2018, just in the United States, according to Carpet America Recovery Effort , an industry group. And it’s not just polyester. Eastman sees potentially unlimited opportunity in all the other types of plastic waste — especially the stuff that’s hard to recycle, from a cost and logistics perspective, including those dreaded Franken-materials. The company’s goal is to extract the value of the carbon molecules contained in these waste materials and put them back into productive use as like-new plastics. Said Costa: “If there’s a way to bring carbon back in through products that’s better than the fossil-fuel approach of the linear economy, we should do that, right? I mean, this isn’t complicated.” Fashion forward Eastman’s goal is to substitute its “carbon renewal” materials for their virgin counterparts wherever they are economically viable. Beyond pure economics, Costa described to me Eastman’s three criteria for determining when it makes sense, from both a business and ecological perspective, to recycle waste plastic. First, the waste has to go back into products — not be incinerated or burned to make energy. Second, the carbon footprint of the recycled material must be better than its fossil-fuel equivalent, based on life-cycle analysis. And third, “Consumers shouldn’t give up a lot in their quality of life.” That is, few if any tradeoffs in price or performance. So far, CRT and PRT processes are finding their way into several of Eastman’s many brands of polymers, including Tr?va, a cellulose-based thermoplastic made from trees, used in automotive, packaging and electronics applications; CDA, a bio-derived material, used in injection-molded applications, such as ophthalmic frames and tool handles; Cristal, designed and engineered specifically for high-end cosmetics packaging applications; and Tritan, a durable clear plastic used to make Camelbak and Nalgene water bottles, and Rubbermaid food storage containers. And then there is Naia , a fiber made from certified sustainably managed pine and eucalyptus plantations, widely used in the fashion industry. It is essentially cellulose acetate, the same material used in photographic film, being made by Eastman in Kingsport for about 100 years. In this case, it is spun into a yarn that is used to make fabric. Naia is made in a closed-loop process, in which chemical inputs — acetic acid and acetone — are continuously recycled. Naia is made in a closed-loop process, in which chemical inputs — acetic acid and acetone — continuously are recycled. According to company marketing materials, it compares favorably to silk, cotton, viscose filaments and polyester in terms of environmental impacts — water usage, climate emissions, ecosystem disruption — and feel. Its yarn can be knitted or woven and easily blended with other fibers. Garments made with Naia are easy to home-launder compared with many fashion-forward fabrics, which require dry cleaning, says Eastman. The company claims that Naia produces no microfibers when washed. There’s one big challenge from a sustainability perspective, however: The fossil fuels used as a feedstock to produce the syngas to make one of the principal ingredients for Naia. Eastman’s Naia textile yarn for fashion. (Photo courtesy of Eastman) Eastman is developing the technology to eliminate the fossil fuels from Naia production, replacing them with gases derived from breaking down waste plastics, a process called reforming, a carbon renewal technology . The resulting product, Naia Renew, is being launched this fall. The company describes it as “a cellulosic yarn sourced from 100 percent circular content, produced from 60 percent certified wood fibers and 40 percent recycle waste plastics.” Used textiles are another potential feedstock for Naia, creating a virtuous cycle that turns no-longer-wearable garments back into new ones. Eastman is in discussions with leading fashion brands about the potential of take-back programs in the future, Steve Crawford, Eastman’s chief technology and sustainability officer, told me during my visit. “They could collect the garments, send them to us, and we could make them back into the same fiber to make new garments.” Mining landfills? There’s yet another disruptive opportunity here: mining landfills to cull plastic waste to be “renewed” through Eastman’s processes. The company says it is working closely with waste management companies to evaluate how to create the availability of such feedstock. “As part of our work, there’s a lot of focus on how we partner, how we collaborate with the parties in this space,” explained Cathy Combs, Eastman’s director of sustainability. “How do we create an infrastructure that will be able to supply chemical recycling?”  “We’ve demonstrated that the new Eastman recycling technologies are capable of utilizing a broad array of waste plastics, including plastics that aren’t currently utilized in mechanical recycling,” Crawford added. “But we’ll need to partner with key players in both the waste collection and waste management systems, and key end-use value chains. We also need brands to help create demand for these materials to become valuable sources of feedstocks for these new technologies.” Of course, all of this innovation is taking place amid a pandemic, not to mention what appears to be a global recession. The textiles sector, like most others, has taken a hit from COVID-19, with a dramatic slowdown in global retail sales resulting in global supply-chain disruption, furloughs throughout the value chain and mounting inventories and liquidity challenges. But industry participants and influencers believe the textiles industry will emerge with an increased emphasis on sustainability as the industry rebuilds, said Jon Woods, Eastman’s general manager of textiles and nonwovens. Mark Costa, for his part, remains bullish on the company’s future, including on the impact the company could have both locally and globally — particularly in the economic development that come from mining plastics from local waste streams. “I think there’s going to be real economic opportunity, and a lot of small-business job creation — which is great for this country as well as in Europe — who are going to jump into this,” he told me. “I mean, the waste management guys will do it, and they’ll be big and at scale. But there’s also a lot of opportunity for local, small businesses to work with municipalities on how to do that. And just like we saw with carpet and the way they densified it, people are going to get creative. Once there’s policy and economic incentive, that’s what America does great.” There’s going to be real economic opportunity, and a lot of small-business job creation — which is great for this country as well as in Europe — who are going to jump into this. Costa believes that technologies such as CRT and PRT can give new life to plastics recycling if they can dramatically improve its economics. “The aluminum guys would have never succeeded if they could only take 10 to 20 percent of the aluminum and had to throw away 80 percent. I doubt you’d have high aluminum recycling rates because you just couldn’t justify the effort.” And, he added, some of Eastman’s sustainability and circular ingenuity just might rub off on the beleaguered chemical sector. “Everyone wants to focus on the things that are negative about the chemical industry, and we have lots of room for improvement. So, how do we collaborate to take this seriously, which I think the industry very much does right now, and solve the next set of solutions to make the environment better at the same time as you’re improving quality of life? That’s our ultimate goal. That’s what we get up every day trying to focus on doing.” I invite you to follow me on Twitter , subscribe to my Monday morning newsletter, GreenBuzz , and listen to GreenBiz 350 , my weekly podcast, co-hosted with Heather Clancy. Pull Quote If it works, this old-line corporate icon could find itself a leading light in the emerging circular economy. Eastman’s ability to turn all plastics back into their constituent molecules is a potential game-changer. Naia is made in a closed-loop process, in which chemical inputs — acetic acid and acetone — are continuously recycled. There’s going to be real economic opportunity, and a lot of small-business job creation — which is great for this country as well as in Europe — who are going to jump into this. Topics Circular Economy Leadership Plastic Waste Recycling Featured Column Two Steps Forward Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off An aerial view of Eastman’s Kingsport, Tennessee headquarters facility. Courtesy Eastman Close Authorship

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Inside Eastman’s moonshot goal for endlessly circular plastics

5 ways we can innovate to solve two crises at once

April 30, 2020 by  
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It would be devastating if the COVID-19 crisis killed off climate tech startups. We only have a few months to get it right.

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5 ways we can innovate to solve two crises at once

SDG No. 17, coronavirus and the battle for a collaborative future

April 30, 2020 by  
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Here’s why a key Sustainable Development Goal is back in style, and why it may be the SDG “for our times.”

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SDG No. 17, coronavirus and the battle for a collaborative future

These key investments can build resilience to pandemics and climate change

April 30, 2020 by  
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Here’s what will help beyond immediate disaster response.

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These key investments can build resilience to pandemics and climate change

A defense of geoengineering

April 16, 2020 by  
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Fantasy or nightmare? If you look beyond extreme ideas such as space shades, there’s much to like about this fast-evolving category of climate tech.

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A defense of geoengineering

Natufia’s hydroponic garden embraces farm-to-table eating

April 14, 2020 by  
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Farm-to-table is a practice that includes collecting food as close to the source as possible, therefore ensuring the greatest amount of nutrients and best quality. With that in mind, one company, Natufia, has taken the idea a step further with its indoor hydroponic garden systems.  Natufia is a temperature-controlled garden that fits inside your kitchen, providing the freshest herbs and vegetables possible and the shortest distance from “farm” to table. This hydroponic garden easily grows plants, nurturing them from pod to maturity. Once the system is in place, simply order seed pods and place them into the nursery trays to germinate. You then move them into the two pull-out racks that hold up to 32 unique plants at once, so you can personalize the garden to suit your family’s needs. You can grow everything from kale and basil to chamomile and cornflowers. Related: This self-sustaining planter doesn’t require sunlight for plants to thrive From there, the system is automatically monitored, controlling temperature, hydration, humidity, nutrient distribution, water, pH, air circulation and even music that science suggests supports healthy growth. In addition to convenience, the plants are non-GMO and certified organic . That means they come without pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or environmental pollutants. Natufia seeds are also Demeter-certified, which is the highest biodynamic certification available. When your plants are ready, the only thing left to do is pick the perfect amount for your meal as you pull ingredients together. Leaving the rest on the plant makes your food last longer and saves room in the refrigerator. Plus, the garden system allows for less trips to the market, zero packaging waste and limited transport emissions compared to other food options. The fully automated closed system that recycles water for up to 10 days to boost water savings is another eco-friendly benefit. Once you’ve harvested all you can from your plants, you can simply order more seed pods online. + Natufia Images via Natufia

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Natufia’s hydroponic garden embraces farm-to-table eating

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