The American firm Eastman is investing in Normandy to create the world’s largest facility for the recycling of PET plastics.
Port-Jérôme-sur-Seine in Normandy will become one of the nerve centers of the circular economy in Europe by 2025. The American business Eastman, a global leader in chemical recycling, has chosen the towns of Port-Jérôme-sur-Seine and Saint-Jean-de-Folleville to set up the world’s largest molecular plastics recycling facility. The group, which generated €10.5 billion in revenues in 2021, will invest €850 million in this project. It will have the capacity to process 160,000 tonnes of plastic waste per year from all over Europe.
Benefiting from high-performance maritime and rail infrastructure as well as strong political will from local communities, Port-Jérôme-sur-Seine already hosts multiple investment projects in the field of the circular economy. At the beginning of 2022, the Canadian group Loop Industries, in collaboration with Suez, announced during the “Choose France” summit, an investment project worth €250 million. It will process 70,000 tonnes of waste by 2023. ExxonMobil, together with the UK group Plastic Energy, will also invest in Port-Jérôme-sur-Seine in a facility that can recycle up to 33,000 tonnes of plastic per year.
Other large-scale projects are under way. In Grandpuits (Normandy), Total Energies, along with Plastic Energy, will convert a refinery into a recycling center. The green startup Carbios is also boosting French research with its sites in the Grand Est region and near Clermont-Ferrand (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region).
France’s ambitious aim, within the framework of the “anti-waste and circular economy” laws of 2020 and the “climate and resilience” measures of 2021, is to see 100% of plastics being recycled by 2025. To achieve this objective, it is investing €300 million in recycling under the “France 2030” plan. For Eastman in particular, the Normandy region has supported the project to the tune of €35 million. These commitments align with European directives, including the ban on single-use plastics and the “European Green Deal.” On March 2, 2022, in Nairobi, Kenya, the United Nations began negotiations and set the goal of a “legally binding” global treaty on plastic waste by 2024.
Unlike traditional recycling, which involves sorting, cleaning and fusing plastic, Eastman uses chemical processes. They enable multi-layered plastics, such as milk cartons, plastic films, polyester, etc., that cannot be recycled otherwise, to be recycled. Chemical methods have the advantage of being able to make plastics infinitely recyclable, while the quality of traditional recycled plastic gradually declines. Eastman uses a solvent (methanol), while Carbios has developed an enzyme that consumes less energy. Eastman relies on biomass and low-carbon energies, particularly nuclear energy, for its factories and to guarantee its carbon neutrality. In the United States, where solvent recycling is common, NGOs have however warned against the risk of these extremely polluting solvents being released into ecosystems.