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Eastman and Rumpke boost PET circularity with molecular recycling tech

#Eastman and Rumpke boost PET circularity with molecular recycling tech


PET recyclate in hand.
(All image credits: Eastman).

12 Feb 2024 — Eastman and Rumpke Waste & Recycling are partnering to recycle hard-to-recycle PET waste.

Later this year, Rumpke will begin collecting and sorting hard-to-recycle and colored PET packaging waste, largely unaddressed in the US recycling ecosystem. The North American recycler will then provide 100% of this waste stream as feedstock to Eastman’s molecular recycling process, turning this waste stream into virgin quality polyesters.

Colored and opaque PET is used across various consumer applications, including personal care and cosmetic packaging, detergent and soap packaging and various dairy and food packaging.

“Our technology unzips polyesters, using methanolysis to convert them back to their basic monomers; we then purify those monomers, and finally we create new polymers from those monomers. The molecules and polymers produced are indistinguishable from materials made with virgin or nonrecycled content,” a spokesperson at Eastman tells Packaging Insights.

“This process, also known as depolymerization, allows us to recycle polyester waste again and again without degradation over time and reduces GHG emissions by 20–30% at the intermediate level compared to processes using fossil fuels.”

Colored PET packaging waste.Eastman’s process enables the recycling of polyester waste again and again without degradation and reduces GHG emissions.“What differentiates our technology is that it is a material-to-material solution that can recycle this waste an infinite number of times without degradation over time, and it does this with a very high material to material yield of >90%. Some technologies produce fuel or energy with their technologies but Eastman continually produces new products from items that would otherwise end up in a landfill,” says the spokesperson.

Creating a new market
Historically, many PET applications have been unable to transition to circular packaging. Through Rumpke’s investment in innovation processing and Eastman’s molecular recycling technology, the partnership aims to enable circularity for many applications.

By harnessing innovation, Rumpke and Eastman are reducing the need for fossil resources. The partners say they set an example for the industry and demonstrate the importance of collaboration in achieving circularity.

“The world is currently grappling with a significant problem, with a large portion of plastic waste either not being collected for recycling or is considered non-recyclable by traditional methods,” says Jeff Snyder, director of Recycling at Rumpke.

“This partnership creates a new market for hard-to-recycle colored and opaque waste that is not currently recycled.”

Last year, Eastman acquired feedstock for its recycling facility in Port Jerome sur Seine, France and invested US$1 billion into the planned molecular recycling facility.

“Because plastic is an incredibly versatile and energy-efficient material, it is often the best material for many packaging solutions because of its durability and lightweight. The world produces 300 million metric tons of plastic each year, yet we recycle only 12%,” Chris Layton, plastics division director of Sustainability at Eastman, told Packaging Insights.

By Natalie Schwertheim

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