People are losing faith that the existing recycling system actually works. In fact, Eastman’s research shows about 70% of Gen Z and Millennial consumers doubt whether everything they toss in the bin will actually get recycled.

Traditional recycling at least feels familiar to most people. Molecular recycling is a new concept to consumers and lawmakers. To truly mainstream the circular economy — increasing participation and maximizing positive impact — we see the need for companies to pair their use of innovative circular technologies like molecular recycling with an increased focus on transparency.

What transparency means for molecular recycling

Eastman envisions a fully circular plastics value chain without using virgin fossil feedstocks. We developed six principles to follow as we turn that vision into reality. Transparency is so important to us across all our sustainability efforts that we included it in that list: “Claims about molecular recycling technologies are clear, transparent and accountable with third-party certifications.” This enables consumers, lawmakers and companies in our value chain to make informed decisions about how they will participate, invest and shape policies.

A person picking up an empty water bottle.

Examining “clear” more closely

Confidence in recycling efforts — mechanical and molecular alike — will continue to crumble unless we ensure that public communications are clear, accurate and meaningful.

Consumer research can help companies learn how to translate complex facts about recycling processes and materials into language consumers can understand. Eastman’s consumer research team, for example, collaborates with our customers to test various claims that convey information consumers care about.

Pursuing “accountability” from multiple angles

  • Certified recycled content: Molecular recycling breaks down waste plastics to molecular building blocks, which are chemically indistinguishable from virgin material. There is no compromise in performance — but it’s also impossible to trace the exact molecules through any manufacturing system that blends recycled and virgin materials. To ensure our recycled content claims are accurate and trustworthy, we use processes certified by the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC).

    ISCC PLUS confirms all materials and processes are being appropriately tracked and accounted for within an established mass balance accounting standard. Ultimately, it enables our customers and consumers to make informed, sustainable purchase decisions.
  • Third-party-reviewed life cycle assessments (LCAs): We use recycling technologies that have an equivalent or smaller environmental footprint compared to conventional manufacturing processes that use fossil feedstocks. To enable this, we use LCAs that conform with international standards (ISO 14040 and 14044) and are critically reviewed by third parties.

    These LCAs show that our molecular recycling technologies produce significantly fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions:
    • The methanolysis process we use for our polyester renewal technology results in 29% lower GHG emissions at the intermediate level compared to conventional processes using fossil fuels.
    • The processes used for our carbon renewal technology can reduce GHGs by 20% to 50% at the intermediate level compared to conventional processes, depending on factors including the mix of waste plastic being recycled.

Communicating progress consistently

Our molecular recycling efforts are embedded in Eastman’s larger commitment to creating A Better Circle, and we regularly report on our journey toward three overarching goals: becoming carbon neutral, increasing the sustainability of our innovation portfolio, and recycling hundreds of millions of pounds of plastic waste. Through these communications, we help our stakeholders understand how each piece — including how we manage our waste and emissions across our molecular recycling business — fits into the big picture.  

Bales of green plastic strapping.

A foundation for change — and value

Transparency fuels education and analysis — and we believe it is a foundation for building beneficial, system-wide changes:

  • Rebuilding consumer trust and ensuring participation in the recycling system
  • Incorporating molecular recycling into regulatory and NGO frameworks for recycling and circularity
  • Increasing companies’ demand for molecular recycled content while decreasing their sense of risk
  • Enabling companies to meet their recycled content goals and craft recycled content claims that align with consumer expectations and regulatory guidelines, including the FTC Green Guides

We invite brands to build value with us through transparency. We work with our customers to leverage our consumer research insights for clear claims and third-party certifications for accountability. Together, we can build trust, increase participation and create systemic change that benefits everyone involved.