In January 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron and Eastman CEO Mark Costa jointly announced Eastman’s plan to invest up to $1 billion in a material-to-material molecular recycling facility in Normandy, France. The site will use Eastman’s polyester renewal technology to recycle up to 200,000 tons annually of hard-to-recycle plastic waste that would otherwise be incinerated.
The first phase of the recycling facility, located in Port-Jérôme-sur-Seine, is expected to be operational by 2026, with the plant reaching full capacity after the second phase, currently planned for 2030. The project will create employment for approximately 350 people and leading to an additional 1,500 indirect jobs in infrastructure and energy. Hiring efforts are expected to ramp up beginning in 2025.
Photo: Eliot Blondet/Abacapress.com
Eastman’s project has garnered support from an impressive roster of global brands that share its commitment to solving the world’s plastic waste problem and view molecular recycling as a pivotal tool for achieving circularity. LVMH Beauty, The Estée Lauder Companies, Clarins, Procter & Gamble, L’Oréal and Danone are leading the way by signing letters of intent for multiyear supply agreements from this facility.
Yes. We use the term molecular recycling in place of chemical recycling because molecular recycling better reflects what we’re doing. At our molecular recycling facilities, we unzip waste materials into their molecular building blocks and rebuild them into new forms — providing an infinite life span for waste materials that were previously destined to end up in landfills, incinerators or, worse, the environment.
Material-to-material recycling refers to technologies where the input to be recycled is material waste and the output is a material that contains recycled content and can be used to make new products. Other technologies may be waste-to-energy or waste-to-fuel technologies where a waste feedstock is processed into energy or fuel.
Eastman has an ambitious, intentional climate strategy, and molecular recycling is a significant part of our pathway to decarbonize. Our technologies have been in commercial operation for two years in the U.S., and studies show that our molecular recycling technologies have 20%–50% fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than traditional processes for making the building blocks used to create new products. The data have been confirmed by an independent party. We expect even more significant climate gains with our operations in France. With the inherent efficiencies of an integrated French asset and the renewable energy sources available in France, we expect to produce materials with up to 80% fewer GHGs than traditional processes.
Eastman recently shared the decision to build the facility in two phases, which will allow the facility to recycle over 200,000 metric tons of hard-to-recycle polyester waste annually, most of which is currently landfilled or incinerated today. Due to updated plans, the company now expects phase 1 of the project to be mechanically complete in 2026 and to process 100,000 metric tons.
The dual problems of climate change and plastic waste are global problems. While we are based in the U.S., we are a global company with the intention of having a global impact. We have approximately 2,300 colleagues based in Europe, and almost 30% of our business revenue is derived from Europe. Building a plant there to help meet demand would have the added benefit of reducing our carbon footprint in shipping to our European customers and other customers outside the U.S. The magnitude of these problems also means the world needs multiple solutions and needs them quickly. We began our recycling program more than 30 years ago and commercialized our technologies in 2019. Our first expansion was in Kingsport — home of our largest manufacturing facility — and we can leverage integration of our assets.
We see great opportunity for our solutions in Europe, considering its leading role in pioneering a global circular economy for plastics. There are multiple reasons why France is our starting point. We share the same vision and first-mover ambition to tackle the hard-to-recycle polyester plastic waste that cannot be mechanically recycled and have both demonstrated responsibility by setting similar ambitious, voluntary carbon and circular economy goals. For example, France is trying to improve its recycling capabilities and realizes that mechanical recycling alone will not be sufficient because it does not allow the processing of all types of plastics. The country is, therefore, encouraging innovative technologies — such as molecular recycling — to complement existing techniques and move towards a more circular economy.
Eastman has put sustainability at the very core of its business strategy and is committed to achieving a circular economy. We are excited to work hand in hand with the French government to help them achieve those sustainability goals through our molecular recycling technology.
We have secured 70% of the feedstock needed for phase I of the project and expect to reach 80% by the end of 2023.
There is a significant unmet need for recycled plastics in a wide spectrum of markets. Many brands have made bold commitments to improve the sustainability of their products and packaging. Eastman already has signed letters of intent with major brands, including LVMH Beauty, The Estée Lauder Companies, Clarins, Procter & Gamble, L’Oréal, and Danone, who intend to purchase materials with recycled content from our facility under multiyear contracts. Many other brands are also interested in supply; however, because we are still in discussions, we are unable to disclose more information.