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Eastman to chemically recycle post-consumer carpet and use as feedstock

rolled up carpets
Eastman Chemical (Kingsport, TN) has struck a deal with recycling company Circular Polymers (Wilmette, IL) to divert millions of pounds of carpet from landfills annually and use the material as feedstock for its carbon renewal technology.

More than three billion pounds of carpet were sent to U.S. landfills in 2018, according to Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE). Eastman Chemical has partnered with Circular Polymers, a company headquartered in Wilmette, IL, that reclaims post-consumer waste products for recycling, to turn carpet that has reached the end of its useful life into valuable feedstock. This is Eastman’s first announcement regarding sourcing of feedstock for its carbon renewal technology, an innovative chemical recycling method that recently began commercial operation at Eastman's primary manufacturing site in Kingsport, TN.

"Our work with Circular Polymers will divert millions of pounds of carpet from landfills in the first year of our agreement," said Mark Costa, Eastman Board Chair and CEO. "Securing consistent sources of feedstock is an important element of our circular solutions platform, as it ensures we can provide Eastman customers with materials that contain certified recycled content.”

Under this agreement, Circular Polymers will collect polyester carpet from homes and businesses and recycle it at its reclamation facility in California, where it separates the PET fiber from the carpeting. Circular Polymers densifies the fiber, which enables its efficient transport by railcar to Eastman's Tennessee manufacturing site for chemical recycling, where it will produce new materials with certified recycled content. Those materials will be used to manufacture products used in Eastman markets, including textiles, cosmetics and personal care, and ophthalmics.

A nonprofit created to support and facilitate market-based solutions that keep carpet out of landfills, CARE partnered with Eastman and Circular Polymers to facilitate the agreement. Since its founding in 2002, CARE has diverted more than 5 billion pounds of carpet from landfills.

This announcement comes less than a year after Eastman first announced its intention to prioritize meaningful contributions to the circular economy.

"We're a company committed to immediate, substantive action to support a circular economy," said Steve Crawford, Eastman Senior Vice President, Chief Technology and Sustainability Officer. "Finding new value in old carpet is something we can all appreciate and relate to. If we just discard the carpet and landfill it, then it's as if the valuable resources it took to make that carpet are locked up and no longer useful. Eastman is also committed to changing that story for multiple sources of mixed plastic which now are being landfilled. By collaborating with feedstock providers like Circular Polymers and others across the value chain, we are going to work together to reclaim the value of our resources."

Eastman expects to use up to 50 million pounds of waste plastic in carbon renewal technology operations in 2020, and projects are currently underway to significantly expand that amount. "In addition to other feedstock agreements like this one, we are also developing take-back programs in partnership with strategic customers to supply additional feedstock for our innovative recycling technologies," Crawford said. "Our carbon renewal technology is already operating at commercial-scale capacity, so we are actively pursuing additional feedstock opportunities to realize a material impact as quickly as possible."

Image: Piggypa/Adobe Stock

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