Eastman, a globally operating specialty material company, has announced plans to invest up to €870M ($1B) in France in a major push towards creating a circular economy.
The French government has been at the forefront of acknowledging climate change by enacting a climate law, initiating measures to reach a net-zero carbon goal by 2050.
Now, in a continued push towards that goal, French President Emmanuel Macron and Eastman Board Chair and CEO Mark Costa have jointly announced the investment in a material-to-material recycling facility in France. The announcement will also help Macron strengthen his position ahead of the country’s presidential election in April.
“The investment in France is a significant step forward in Eastman’s strategy to accelerate a circular economy globally. Eastman is proud to partner with the French government to actively contribute to France’s and the EU’s bold commitments,” Costa says.
Eastman to accelerate France’s circular economy
A circular economy is a “model of production and consumption” that incentivises sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. France wants to be a leader in the circular economy by offering incentives to those supporting reuse of existing resources and products. A shift from linear to circular economy is seen as key to addressing the global plastic waste crisis and the climate crisis.
Eastman, a prominent player in material science, is jumping on board France’s vision to create a circular economy with a pledge to invest up to €870M. The company will set up a molecular recycling facility in France as part of this initiative. This facility will use Eastman’s polyester renewal technology to recycle up to 160,000 metric tonnes of hard-to-recycle plastic waste annual.
The upshot of this recycling plant will be its ability to ensure that the plastic waste that is currently being incinerated can be recycled and reused. After decline in 2020, the Rhodium group reports that US greenhouse gas emissions jumped by 6.2 per cent in 2021. This sharp U-turn in emissions after record drop shows that countries need to take more steps to curb emissions globally.
France is taking a leadership position here with this investment from Eastman announced at this year’s “Choose France” event. The investment, according to Eastman, will recycle enough plastic waste annually to fill Stade de France national football stadium two and a half times. The investment should be seen as a watershed moment for recycling plastic after smaller players like Dutch startup Umincorp raised €15M for its innovative plastic recycling plant in Rotterdam.
Barbara Pompili, French Minister for Ecological Transition, says, “Accelerating the transition to a circular economy is one of the main challenges in the years to come. Eastman’s substantial investment in France demonstrates our country’s willingness to embrace innovative technologies that will help us achieve our ecological and economic ambitions, by revolutionising our country’s plastics recycling capacities.”
Molecular plastics recycling facility operational by 2025
With its material-to-material molecular recycling facility in France, Eastman not only aims to recycle plastic currently being incinerated, but also create virgin-quality material with a lower carbon footprint. The multi-phase project includes units that would prepare mixed plastic waste for processing and a methanolysis unit to depolymerise the waste.
The facility will also include polymer lines to create a variety of “first-quality materials for specialty, packaging, and textile applications”. In addition to this facility, Eastman is also planning to establish an innovation centre for molecular recycling in France.
The innovation will act as a catalyst to the advancement of alternative recycling methods and applications to curb plastic waste incineration and leave fossil feedstock in the ground. Eastman expects the plant and innovation centre to be operational by 2025. This will create direct employment opportunities for approximately 350 people and additional 1,500 indirect jobs in recycling, energy and infrastructure.
“Sustainability should not be an afterthought,” The Next Closet’s Lieke Pijpers told Silicon Canals in September last year, advancing the need for the fashion industry to become circular. The announcement today from Eastman paves the way for the fashion industry to be more proactive about plastic use.
Eastman has signed letters of intent for multi year supply agreements from the new facility with LVMH Beauty, The Estée Lauder Companies, Clarins, Procter & Gamble, L’Oréal and Danone. The partnership will allow Eastman to recycle plastic while the virgin-quality material produced by the facility will go into production of goods by these global brands.
“Eastman’s world-scale project will allow France to position itself as a European leader in new technologies for recycling and recovering plastic waste. This investment is the result of the ambitious approach to industrial reconquest led by the Government since 2017, which has enabled France to become the most attractive country in Europe from 2018 onward for industrial projects,” Agnès Pannier-Runacher, French Delegate Minister for Industry adds.
Eastman: what you need to know
Eastman is a specialty material company operating globally and producing a broad range of products found in items used by people every day. The company is pioneering the shift towards circular materials with its two advanced circular recycling technologies – carbon renewal and polyester renewal. In addition to these recycling technologies, Eastman is also pushing mechanical and molecular recycling as a means to reach sustainability.
Each year, 300M tons of plastic is produced; only 16 per cent of that plastic is collected for recycling. With only 12 per cent of that actually recycled, Eastman is imagining a way to recycle the 25 per cent that gets incinerated each year. Along with its partners, Eastman is pushing the idea of a circular economy and advocating for making the most of the world’s resources by minimising waste and maximising value.
It offers end-of-life solutions to reduce, reuse and recycle materials that would typically end up in landfills. Today’s announcement to invest in France shows its leadership in sustainability and advancement in recycling technologies to address the challenge posed by plastic waste.