Eastman Chemical Co. — one of Tennessee’s largest employers — plans to spend about $250 million to build one of the world’s largest plastic-to-plastic molecular recycling facilities in Kingsport.
Eastman Chairman and CEO Mark Costa and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced the plastics, chemicals and fibers corporation’s plans Friday. The company will develop the facility at its Kingsport site over the next two years. It will support Eastman’s commitment to addressing global waste solutions and mitigating challenges created by climate change, while also creating value for its stakeholders, according to a news release from the governor.
“With the growing demand for products made with recycled content and the urgent need to address the global plastic waste crisis, now is the time for Eastman to take this step. We are grateful for our partnership with Governor Lee in making today’s announcement possible,” Costa said.
The facility, which is expected to be complete by the end of 2022, will help address the globe’s plastic waste crisis. Company officials hope the facility will recycle more than 500 million pounds of plastic waste annually via molecular recycling technologies by 2030, the release states. The company has committed to recycling more than 250 million pounds of plastic waste per year by 2025.
Through methanolysis, Eastman’s facility will convert polyester waste, which often ends up in landfills, waterways and elsewhere, into durable products. Polyester cannot be recycled using regular methods, according to Eastman. The methanolysis process uses heat, pressure and methanol to break down polyesters. It will then be transformed into new products.
The facility will use more than 100,000 metric tons of plastic waste to produce high-quality specialty plastics. The process should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% to 30% relative to fossil feedstocks, the release states.
Eastman is one of the pioneers in developing methanolysis technology at commercial scale and has more than three decades of expertise in this recycling process, the release states.
Costa said the project will be a great investment for the local community and Eastman’s customers, while also creating small business jobs to develop the recycling infrastructure needed to support investment in a sustainable future.
“Eastman has been a leader in the materials sector for over 100 years and continues to be a valued partner to our state,” Lee said. “I’d like to thank the company for investing in Kingsport and its highly skilled workforce, and for focusing on innovative technology that enhances the quality of life for people not just in Tennessee, but around the world.”
Costa said the facility is just part of Eastman’s overall circular economic strategy.
“Eastman employs more than one-third of the Tennesseans that work in our state’s chemical industry, and we applaud the company for expanding its capabilities in Kingsport while reaffirming its commitment to sustainability,” Tennessee Economic Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe said in a news release from the agency. “The groundbreaking work done at Eastman’s Sullivan County headquarters makes an international impact, and we are proud that the company continues to grow and invest in Northeast Tennessee.”
Local state legislators applauded the news.
“I’m excited with the opportunity for Eastman, and the region,” said state Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol. “We are all pleased Eastman continues to invest in Sullivan County and create job opportunities. This is a truly new phase of growth for Eastman, and we appreciate work done by Governor Lee and others to facilitate this major investment.”
Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, said, “Eastman has made significant contributions to our community over the last one hundred years. I am grateful they are continuing to invest in our district’s most valuable resource — our workforce.”
Eastman makes chemicals, fibers and plastics for a variety of uses in consumer products, including protective coatings and films used in decorative packaging, according to its website. The company spun off from Eastman Kodak and became an independent corporation in the 1990s.