CHICAGO — Eastman Chemical Co.'s new depolymerization recycling trial will be economical only if the public demands recycled content and bottle makers are willing to pay a premium, Chairman Earnest Deavenport said in a June 20 interview at NPE.
Deavenport was interviewed after an Eastman news conference in its booth (S3332) to introduce amber-colored PET, which company officials said cuts out the need to mix colorants at the molding plant. Sample quantities will be available this summer, and full-scale production plans are in development, the company said.
But Deavenport, who is also chief executive officer of the Kingsport, Tenn.-based company, said the company's plan for depolymerization technology is on the shelf, unless economics change. The company announced a depolymerization trial a year ago, partially in response to concerns that PET beer bottles would hurt recycling efforts.
"We're not close to a depolymerization plant," he said. "We are not real close to that, but we've got the technology on the shelf."
Chemical recycling of PET is technologically feasible but does not make economic sense now, he said.
"It is not commercially feasible to develop that unless the public demands recycled content," he said.
Deavenport said Eastman charged about a 10 percent premium for recycled resin made with its depolymerization technology in the early 1990s, and would need to charge about that now.
The company abandoned that technology then, when soft drink makers lost interest. But company officials announced it was restarting a trial a year ago, in response to concerns that new PET packaging with barrier layers and new colors could hurt recycling.
Deavenport said it is hard to predict how fast beer will convert to PET, but he said it could eventually double the size of the PET market. He pointed out that some soft-drink projections more than 20 years ago said PET would be a niche there, but it quickly took off.
He said projections have ranged from 2.5-20 percent of the beer market in the next few years: "Whether it is 5 or 10 or 20 percent I don't know."
Thomas Smith, vice president and general manager of container plastics at Eastman, said the company still considers Europe a more viable spot for depolymerization than the United States.
He said the company would need a steady stream of raw material and reasonable collection costs. But he added that the plastics recycling rate needs to increase.
"The reality is we need something in place better than it is today or somebody is going to legislate something," Smith said. "I don't know whether that is bottle bills or not but collectively all of us have to come up with something."