July 28, 2022
\\ Rachel Oakley, Eyewear Segment Manager, Eastman Specialty Plastics
Introduced to the optical market in 2020, Eastman Acetate Renew has been adopted by leaders in creative eyewear design with an eye on the future and sustainable development goals in their sights. Rachel Oakley told 20/20 EUROPE why the sustainable material is proving such a success for the early adopters - and what’s coming next.
Q: The new material Eastman Acetate Renew is made via Eastman’s molecular recycling technology that breaks down plastic waste into fundamental building blocks to create new materials. Please explain the evolution of this material in the last years
A: Eastman Acetate Renew was first introduced to market in 2020. At the time, it was a revolutionary concept, a fully sustainable material without compromising on performance, appearance or feel. Eastman first developed the molecular recycling technology used in Acetate Renew in the 1980s. More recently we have been producing at scale, in 2021 we diverted more than 5.7 millions kilos of hard to recycle plastic from landfill, and we are on track to recycle more than 225 million kilos annually by 2030. Acetate Renew has now become a mainstream product within the eyewear industry and we are delighted that a major portion of our acetate sales next year will be on the Renew product.
Q: What are the key benefits of molecular recycling and what is carbon renewal technology?
A: At Eastman we have two different types of molecular recycling, Carbon Renewal Technology that is used to create recycled content for our Acetate Renew and TeniteTM Renew products, and Polymer Renewal Technology that is used to create recycled content for our range of specialty co-polyesters such as Tritan Renew. There are slight differences in the processes but both technologies work by breaking hard-to-recycle waste plastic down into molecular building blocks before rebuilding them into new polymers. For me, the biggest benefit is reducing the amount of plastic that goes into landfill and keeping fossil materials in the ground. Of the 300 million tonnes of plastic produced globally each year, unfortunately only 12% is currently mechanically recycled, with the rest ending up in landfills or worse. Since molecular recycling targets plastics that can’t be recycled by conventional methods, it can have a big impact on reducing our plastic-waste problem. In addition to reducing plastic waste, Eastman’s Renew products also have lower carbon emissions than their heritage counterparts. For example, the production of Eastman Acetate Renew reduces CO2 emissions by 47% compared to traditional acetate. For eyewear companies, it allows them to tap into the growing consumer demand for sustainable frames, without having to sacrifice on style. Our recent consumer survey showed that consumers are very interested in buying eyewear made from sustainable materials, but they aren’t willing to compromise on quality, performance or design. Since Eastman Renew products are indistinguishable from their traditional counterparts they look, feel and perform the same as regular materials.
\\ Under Armour sunglasses in Tritan Renew
Q: Can you explain exactly what Eastman Acetate Renew is, is it mostly bio-based and why is it more sustainable compared to other materials? It is being hailed “revolutionary”?
A: Eastman Acetate Renew is made from approx. 60% bio-based content and 40% recycled content. The bio-based content comes from wood, and Eastman holds FSC and PEFC chain of custody certification to ensure that the forests are well managed. The recycled content is created by our molecular recycling process and certified throughout the value chain by ISCC PLUS.
Additionally for every 1000 frames produced from Acetate Renew there is a 100kg reduction in CO2 compared to standard acetate products, as well as diverting 50kg of plastic waste from landfill. I think it is revolutionary because all these benefits are achieved without any trade off in quality. As consumers, we are most familiar with conventional recycling, where recycled plastics are often of a lower quality, but with molecular recycling you get virgin-material design flexibility and performance. I think Mykita has demonstrated this very well – at the end of March they switched 100% of their acetate supply to Eastman Acetate Renew. Due to the quality of Acetate Renew, it was a seamless switch and they didn’t have to requalify, or change any production processes in order to achieve their high-quality frames.
Q: What other sustainable materials are offered already at Eastman?
A: Eastman aims to make sustainable materials available for all types of eyewear from luxury optical frames to fashion sunwear. Acetate Renew is the material of choice for optical frames and luxury sunwear, whereas Eastman Tritan Renew is setting the standard for sustainable fashion sunwear. Eastman Tritan Renew contains 50% recycled content, is BPA free and crystal clear. We are seeing this used in a broad range of fashion sunglasses such as Foster Grant by FGX and Polaroid by Safilo. Finally, we recognise that the frame is only 50% of the weight of the glasses. Tritan Renew’s exceptional clarity and impact resistance also makes it suitable for lenses and we offer dedicated grades for sustainable lens production. Kenmark’s Paradigm collection launched in 2021 with Tritan Renew lenses with Acetate Renew frames, and we’re also looking forward to seeing Tritan Renew lenses in the new Under Armour 2023 collection.
Q: How do such materials compare to traditional ones?
A: All Eastman Renew products are indistinguishable from their legacy counterparts.
Q: Are we right in thinking that you are proposing a take-back program that recycles waste from the eyewear industry into new sustainable materials, such as Acetate Renew. Could you explain this system and how it will work - could be an important
A: There are multiple places waste is created in producing a pair of glasses. Our ambition is to create recycling solutions to tackle the biggest sources of waste. As mentioned previously, our molecular recycling process can handle plastic waste that cannot be recycled by conventional methods, and this includes waste from the eyewear industry. Demo lenses are an obvious source of waste, they are thrown away even before the consumer walks out of the store. Earlier this year we announced a pilot with Warby Parker where we are recycling their demo lenses into Acetate Renew. Our next focus is on tackling the waste generated in creating a pair of acetate frames. We are hopeful to start recycling acetate sheet waste as early as next year. This program is much anticipated in the industry but has taken longer than expected due to the regulatory challenges.
Q: The adoption of Acetate Renew increased dramatically in 2022, is that correct? What is the implication of Mykita fully switching to it in 2022?
A: Mykita has really shown the industry what is possible with Acetate Renew. From one day to the next, they switched all their purchases of acetate to Renew, without any impact on production processes, quality, style or comfort. Their bold action has inspired other companies to take the leap, and we are very proud to work with them.
\\ MYKITA has switched to Eastman Acetate Renew
Q: Should we expect to see further developments in next generation sustainable materials at Eastman and if so when?
A: We are just launching Tenite Renew. Traditional Tenite CAP is widely used in the industry for eyewear components such as temple tips, as well as injection molded optical frames. Like all Eastman Renew products, Tenite Renew has the same properties as traditional CAP, but with at least 20% recycled content in addition to the 35% bio-based content. We are pleased that our partners Marchon and Safilo have already announced their first styles on Nautica and Levi’s brands. Tenite Renew is an incredibly flexible material and with this introduction we believe we can offer an option for companies who are looking to offer sustainable glasses at all price points in their ranges.
Q: Do you expect a much wider adoption across the industry of these materials in the short to medium term?
A: The eyewear industry is driven by its fashion industry counterparts. As big fashion brands have made strong sustainability commitments, they drive these requirements into their accessories.
Historically the switch to sustainable materials in eyewear has been limited by the availability of sustainable materials at the right quality and in sufficient quantities. With Eastman Renew eyewear products these constraints have been removed. One of the pleasures of my job is that I sometimes get a sneak-peek into future collections, and I’m really pleased to see how many companies are switching all or some of their eyewear onto Eastman Renew products.