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  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green, Recycle

Comments Off on Inside Eastman’s moonshot goal for endlessly circular plastics

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

UN lists plastic as hazardous waste, votes to control international trade

May 15, 2019 by  
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On May 10, 187 countries voted to list plastic as hazardous waste and tighten control over its international trade. The governing agreement, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal dictates legally binding standards for importing and exporting toxic materials. For the first time ever, the agreement now includes plastic , with the exception of PE, PP and PET plastics. The new agreement gives lower income countries — particularly Southeast Asian countries — more control over the indiscriminate dumping of toxic materials. “This is a crucial first step toward stopping the use of developing countries as a dumping ground for the world’s plastic waste , especially those coming from rich nations,” said Von Hernandez from Break Free From Plastic. European nations and the U.S. export waste to African and Asian countries as a way to dispose of their trash and hazardous materials. Sometimes these countries are paid for their recycling or landfill services, but many times the dumping happens without permission. Under the Basel Convention agreement, export countries must receive written permits before dumping hazardous waste, which now includes most contaminated, mixed and non-recyclable plastic . Related: A guide to the different types of plastic In 2018, China banned imports of plastic waste and nearby countries Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand saw a massive upsurge in dumping. With China no longer an option, the $200 billion global recycling industry suddenly had no buyers that could handle the scale of the world’s plastic addiction. Ports in the U.S. and Europe began to overflow with plastic while exporters struggled to find new dumping sites. The U.S. is not a member of the Basel Convention and therefore could not participate in the vote. As the largest exporter of plastic, however, it will be required to obtain permits when dumping in participating countries. The American Chemistry Council and Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries were among the outspoken opponents, arguing these new obstacles will hinder recycling programs. One million citizens around the world signed online petitions in support of the new agreement. “Plastic waste is acknowledged as one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues,”  said Rolph Payet , executive secretary of the convention. “The fact that this week close to 1 million people around the world signed a petition urging Basel Convention Parties to take action here in Geneva at the COPs is a sign that public awareness and desire for action is high.” + UN Environment Via Plastic Pollution Convention and CNN Image via Jasmin Sessler

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UN lists plastic as hazardous waste, votes to control international trade

Chevron admits "there’s no debate about climate science" in court hearing

March 23, 2018 by  
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“From Chevron’s perspective there’s no debate about climate science ,” attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. said in a courtroom this week. In a case pitting Big Oil companies against the cities of San Francisco and Oakland , which allege the fossil fuel corporations should pay for actions like sea walls to deal with the impacts of climate change , Chevron’s attorney acknowledged that manmade climate change is real. Don’t get too excited, though. According to Boutrous, it may be real, but it isn’t Chevron’s fault – it’s yours. United States District Judge William Alsup called for a two-part climate change tutorial  earlier this month to help educate all the parties involved in the lawsuit on climate change. During this tutorial,  Science Magazine and The Verge reported that Chevron agreed with the existing scientific consensus. The tutorial wasn’t an echo of the famous Scopes trial, according to Alsup. Science Magazine said he told the audience, “This will not be withering cross-examinations and so forth. This will be numbers and diagrams, and if you get bored you can just leave.” Prominent scientists spoke for San Francisco and Oakland, but Boutrous was the sole speaker for the oil industry — and he said, “Chevron accepts what the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] has reached consensus on concerning science and climate change.” Related: Federal court orders first hearing on the science of climate change Boutrous did emphasize parts of the IPCC’s fifth climate science assessment report regarding uncertainties, according to Science Magazine, such as challenges over predictions of sea level rise in particular parts of the planet or modeling Antarctic ice’s response to increasing temperatures. Even if Chevron does agree on the science, they don’t seem to agree a lawsuit is the correct way to tackle climate change — Boutrous described it as a global issue necessitating global action. Chevron spokesperson Sean Comey told The Verge the company “welcomes meaningful efforts to address the issue of climate change, but litigation is not an appropriate tool for accomplishing that objective.” He also claims that Chevron is no more to blame for climate change than anyone else. “Anyone in the world could be brought in in the case, including the plaintiffs themselves,” he said. Which gets to the crux of the argument: Chevron claims that burning fossil fuels is to blame, so it rests on the shoulders of those driving cars or heating their homes with coal to stop climate change. But the plaintiffs argue that, like the cigarette companies in the past, companies like Chevron knew about the impact of their product on the environment and chose to continue pushing it. Science Magazine said Exxon, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and ConocoPhillips, the other oil companies involved, stayed away from the tutorial as they have questioned Alsup’s jurisdiction to hear the case. Alsup afforded them two weeks to disagree with what Boutrous had to say, or he’ll assume they’re in agreement. Via The Verge and Science Magazine Images via Depositphotos and Pixabay

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Chevron admits "there’s no debate about climate science" in court hearing

ESA launches world’s first mission to explore the "atmospheres of hundreds of planets"

March 23, 2018 by  
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Behold a brand new era of space exploration. The European Space Agency (ESA) just selected the Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) mission from three candidates to launch what Nature describes as the “world’s first space telescope dedicated to studying the atmospheres of exoplanets.” The four-year, $552 million will launch on the Ariane 6 rocket in 2028. The agency said we’ve found thousands of exoplanets with a massive range of sizes, masses, and orbits, but we haven’t uncovered a pattern connecting such characteristics to the parent star’s nature. “In particular, there is a gap in our knowledge of how the planet’s chemistry is linked to the environment where it formed, or whether the type of host star drives the physics and chemistry of the planet’s evolution,” according to ESA. Related: Kepler data reveals 20 potential habitable worlds ESA plans to zero in on hot and warm planets, “ranging from super-Earths to gas giants orbiting close to their parent stars.” Nature said a spectograph will scrutinize light filtering through an exoplanet’s atmosphere while it passes by its host star, “revealing chemical fingerprints of gases that shroud the body.” ARIEL could detect signs of water vapor, methane, and carbon dioxide, and also measure exotic metallic compounds. ESA says such findings could help place an exoplanet in context of a host star’s chemical environment. ESA Director of Science Günther Hasinger said in the statement, “ARIEL is a logical next step in exoplanet science, allowing us to progress on key science questions regarding their formation and evolution, while also helping us to understand Earth’s place in the universe .” + ESA’s Next Space Mission to Focus on Nature of Exoplanets Via Nature Images via ESA/ATG medialab, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO and NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech

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ESA launches world’s first mission to explore the "atmospheres of hundreds of planets"

Dutch parliament votes to shut down all of the country’s coal plants

September 26, 2016 by  
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The Dutch parliament voted Thursday night to shutter the nation’s coal industry in order to achieve a 55-percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. The vote, which is not yet binding, would require shutting down the five coal power plants currently operating in the Netherlands, three of which just came online in 2015. Slashing CO2 emissions by 55 percent would bring the country’s emissions in line with the targets set by the Paris climate deal last December, and set a strong precedent among European nations for policies to slow the effects of climate change . The Netherlands’ Liberal and Labour parties led the 77 to 72 vote on September 22, in favor of the 2030 emissions reduction goal. Parliament will next move to get the plan into effect. The decision comes on the heels of the discovery that the nation’s CO2 emissions have jumped 5 percent over the last year, which analysts blame on the three new coal-fired power plants. Turning away from coal power is the fastest and simplest method for drastically reducing emissions over time. Related: Peak number of coal plants are shutting down in 2015, ushering in a greener era “Closing down big coal plants–even if they were recently opened–is by far the most cost effective way to achieve the goals of the Paris agreement, and all countries will need to take such far-reaching measures,” the Dutch Liberal MP and vice president of the parliament, Stientje van Veldhoven, told the Guardian. “We cannot continue to use coal as the cheapest source of energy when it is the most expensive from a climate perspective.” The most recent vote echoes the court order last year which demanded prime minister Mark Rutte’s government make climate change a bigger priority by cutting emissions 25-percent by 2020. That short-term goal is included in the measure approved last week. Opponents of the plan have argued that the Dutch coal plants are cleaner than those operating elsewhere in the world, and many are concerned that the leading candidate in March’s election for a new government would block the initiative. Supporters hope the current government will act quickly to move the plan forward, in an effort to secure a greener future for the nation—or at least delay the ill effects of the next administration. Via The Guardian Images via RWE and Shutterstock

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Dutch parliament votes to shut down all of the country’s coal plants

COP18 Ends in Colossal Failure

December 7, 2012 by  
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The 18th Conference of the Parties or COP18 ends today in colossal failure. Not only have the negotiations failed to produce any meaningful emissions cuts , but ‘Hot Air’ permits that allow countries like Poland and Russia to maintain their heavy industries may even result in more emissions . Talks have stalled for a host of reasons, though most developing nations blame rich countries like the United States , Canada and Japan for refusing to sign an interim successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol that would bind them to emissions reductions. Finance continues to be a contentious issue. At the COP15 meetings in Copenhagen, rich nations agreed to building a $100 billion annual fund by 2020 that would help developing nations cope with the effects of escalating climate change. The EU has offered interim funding but the US has failed to commit, citing the global economic crisis as justification. The Loss and Damage mechanism would require rich nations responsible for the highest emissions to compensate the countries that are most vulnerable, but the BBC reports that nobody wants to agree to any terms because of admission of guilt such a move would imply. Meanwhile, Qatar has come under fire for its soft leadership. Instead of compelling other Arab countries to reach a meaningful agreement to slash emissions, the emirate agreed to build an Institute for Climate Studies. The president of the conference, Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, told BBC News that he didn’t have luck creating a joint Arab position on the issue. “I want us to move together on climate change but I can’t get consensus on this.” Another UN climate meeting comes to a close without any substantial consensus as scientists issue increasingly grave warnings about the state of the earth. In short, COP18 was a colossal #FAIL. Via BBC News Lead image via Penny.Yi.Wang , flickr, Blacked out Lower Manhattan by Iwan Baan

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COP18 Ends in Colossal Failure

Parents Host Chicken Pox Parties to Infect Their Children With the Virus

November 12, 2011 by  
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Would you ever willingly infect your child with a virus? Parents across the country are doing just that as they host chicken pox parties and invite uninfected kids over for fun and a body-full of itchy bumps. Facebook pages such “ Find a Pox Party Near You ” are allowing parents of infected kids to find one another, in turn forgoing the need to vaccinate their kids from the virus. So would you bring your kid to a pox party ? Take our poll and share your thoughts ahead! READ MORE > Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: adult chicken pox , baby health , chicken pox , chicken pox complications , chicken pox party , chicken pox vaccine , deadly chicken pox , pox party , shingles , vaccine safety , viruses

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Parents Host Chicken Pox Parties to Infect Their Children With the Virus

Factory Farming Is Not the Best We Have to Offer

October 25, 2011 by  
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© Derek Goodwin Over the last half-century in the US, small farms have been replaced by large, industrialized operations that treat animals and the natural world as mere commodities. This factory farming system, which slaughters animals by the billions, costs us all dearly…. Read the full story on TreeHugger

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Factory Farming Is Not the Best We Have to Offer

How Organic Farmers and Ethical Consumers are Taking on the Mafia

October 25, 2011 by  
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UK In Italy / CC BY-ND 2.0 A few years ago, a friend of mine attended a Slow Food event in Italy. She recounted how one farmer had stood up and desperately pleaded for the artisan food movement to take on organized criminals. Without loosening their grip on farm supply and produce distribution, the farmer argued, it was impossible to make a sustainable living working on the land. … Read the full story on TreeHugger

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