Eastman Chemical Company to build plastic recycling plant by 2022

Updated: Mar 30

A plastic recycling plant is set to be built in Northeast Tennessee. Here's how it will impact the Appalachian region.

China closed its borders to foreign waste in 2017, leaving Americans wondering what they should do with it.

China began refusing to accept plastic waste from North America through their National Sword policy in January 2017, forcing Americans to either become more clever with how they reuse their plastic waste or throw it in the garbage to be sent to landfills. These landfills have been slowly but surely filling up with plastic, which is estimated to take over 450 years to decompose.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, plastic waste has the most potential to harm the wildlife, the environment and humans. Plastic is especially harmful to wildlife because animals often cannot tell the difference between plastic versus their prey. Plastic is indigestible to these small animals, and by eating it, they fill their stomachs and eventually starve to death. 

Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, Tennessee, has big plans to limit the amount of plastic wasted in the Appalachian region. 

Already a large provider of jobs in the Northeast Tennessee region and an independent global specialty materials company of numerous products, Eastman is hoping to have the new plant built by 2022 and functioning shortly after. The plant will be one of the largest plastic-to-plastic recycling plants in the world, costing an estimated $250 million to build and is gauged to be recycling up to 250 million pounds of waste annually by 2025. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said in a press conference in January 2021 that this investment is an example of how Tennessee can lead the nation.

“We take polyester waste from a variety of sources and break it down into its monomers that then reassemble back into polyester,” said Mark Costa, chief executive officer of Eastman Chemical Company.

Eastman is no stranger to business in the Appalachian region, with a 101-year history in the state of Tennessee, and has more than enough funds and manpower to invest in the future of this project. Since 2013, Eastman has invested nearly $1.6 billion into the state of Tennessee and has over 65,000 employees universally. In 2020, the Wall Street Journal named Eastman one of the 100 most sustainably managed companies in the world.

“Tennessee is an example to the country about how it is that we can partner together to invest in the future of America,” said Lee. “The future of the sustainable environment hinges on if companies like Eastman will invest in that.”

Costa claims that every new job created within Eastman creates up to eight small business jobs in addition. The company also anticipates the numerous construction-related jobs that will go into building the facility. The location for the building is set to be in the southwest area of the plant to be near the rest of the polymer manufacturing. Original plans for the recycling facility originated 10 years ago, but planning was pushed to the back burner due to a lack of market demand of investors who would appreciate the value of this project enough to fund it.

The plant will use methanol to recycle the products by breaking the products back down to the monomers that they are made of, which will then be reassembled into new products. Eastman plans to grow their durable recycled plastic products to provide an infinite life of plastic. Costa claims that this will be the first step in a long journey for the environmental sustainability efforts of Eastman. The production of this new building is hoped to benefit the climate, in addition to being economically appealing by removing plastic waste from the land.

“It is our intention to find ways to use local plastics,” said Costa. “150 million pounds of single use plastic is wasted in the first congressional district in the state of Tennessee.” 

Eastman hopes that this new plant will be an invaluable asset to the region both economically by the new jobs it will produce, as well as environmentally by reducing the amount of plastic wasted in the area and saving the wildlife by limiting the plastic that they consume instead of actual food. 

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