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Large-scale recycling of mixed plastics

By Mary Page Bailey |

Eastman Chemical Co. (Kingsport, Tenn.; www.eastman.com) is ready to commercialize a new chemical-recycling technology that can handle a wide variety of mixed plastic waste, including plastic materials that cannot be handled by conventional recycling processes. “We are modifying the front end of the existing production stream that manufactures cellulosics and acetyls to accept mixed plastic waste. We will convert those materials into the same basic building blocks that are used for products like methyl acetate and acetic anhydride,” says Tim Dell, vice president of corporate innovation at Eastman.

What sets this technology apart from other chemical-recycling processes is the rapid commercialization enabled by essentially “bolting on” the new technology to Eastman’s existing units and targeting specific areas of Eastman’s value chain. “We processed, under controlled conditions, truckload quantities of mixed plastics into the commercial operation, so we’ve proven it at scale. Full commercialization is expected by the end of 2019,” adds Dell. Also in the works at Eastman is a new world-scale plant to recycle waste polyester materials using methanolysis. The plant, expected to begin commercial operations in the next 2–3 years, will break down polyester waste into virgin-quality dimethyl terephthalate and mono-ethylene glycol, both of which are important building blocks for Eastman’s specialty plastics business.

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