Eastman is investing up to US$1 billion in building what it says is the world’s largest molecular plastics recycling facility in France. The announcement was made jointly this morning by French President Emmanuel Macron and Eastman’s board chair and CEO Mark Costa.
The new facility would use Eastman’s polyester renewal technology to recycle up to 160,000 metric tons of hard-to-recycle plastic waste annually – enough plastic waste to fill Stade de France national football stadium 2.5 times.
The project is designed to divert plastic waste from incineration while creating virgin-quality material with a “significantly lower carbon footprint.”
Eastman’s project has also garnered support from a roster of global brands, who also view molecular recycling as a pivotal tool for achieving circularity. LVMH Beauty, The Estée Lauder Companies, Clarins, Procter & Gamble (P&G), L’Oréal and Danone have signed letters of intent for multi-year supply agreements from this facility.
France’s circular economy
France’s 2020 Circular Economy Law (“loi Agec”) sets unprecedented objectives for plastics recycling. The goal is to reach 100% recycled plastics by 2025. The country is also targeting the phase-out of single-use plastic packaging by 2040.
“Eastman’s world-scale project will allow France to position itself as a European leader in new technologies for recycling and recovering plastic waste,” states Agnès Pannier-Runacher, French delegate minister for industry.
“With this project, which is an important step for our sovereignty, we are giving ourselves the means to achieve our ambitions in terms of ecological transition while creating sustainable jobs in manufacturing, infrastructure and energy.”
Eastman is the largest investor at this year’s “Choose France” event, which is focused on attracting foreign investment to France.
According to Innova Market Insights, 36% of French consumers say governments are important in solving the plastic pollution crisis, while 19% say waste management companies are significant. Interestingly, 55% of French consumers believe consumer behavior is crucial to overcoming the crisis.
Inside polyester renewal tech
The multi-phase project includes units that would prepare mixed plastic waste for processing, a methanolysis unit for depolymerizing the waste, and polymer lines for creating various high-quality materials for specialty packaging and textiles.
Hard-to-recycle plastic is typically incinerated because it cannot be mechanically recycled or must be downcycled with existing technology. However, Eastman breaks the waste down into its molecular building blocks and then reassembles them for virgin-quality material.
With the technology’s inherent efficiencies and the renewable energy sources available in France, materials can be produced with greenhouse gas emissions up to 80% less than traditional methods, the company says.
Eastman also plans to establish an innovation center for molecular recycling that “would enable France to sustain a leadership role in the circular economy.”
This innovation center would advance alternative recycling methods and applications to curb plastic waste incineration and leave fossil feedstock in the ground.
The plant and innovation center is expected to be operational by 2025, creating employment for approximately 350 people and leading to 1,500 indirect jobs in recycling, energy and infrastructure.
“France has demonstrated its commitment toward a [environmentally] sustainable future, and Eastman has set similar, ambitious carbon and circular economy goals,” says Costa.
“The announcement today has been made possible thanks to the support of President Macron, the French government and its agency Business France, who have worked with impressive urgency to enable and incentivize this large and complex project.”
“We expect to achieve additional milestones in the coming months, including agreements related to securing the plastic waste that will be raw material supply, securing government incentives, and the site location decision.”
By Joshua Poole
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