Eastman aims to create a circular economy for the eyewear sector.

Eastman is a global supplier of special materials and pioneer in molecular recycling. It employs approximately 14,500 people around the world and serves customers in more than 100 countries. The company had 2020 revenues of approximately $8.5 billion and is headquartered in Kingsport, Tennessee, USA. 

It has been present in the eyewear market since the mid-20th century and in 2020 launched a joint venture with Mazzucchelli1849 under which the Italian company will produce and sell acetate sheets made with Eastman’s Acetate Renew, a cellulose diacetate made from 60% organic materials and 40% certified recycled materials. Three big players are currently using this material in their collections.

Rachel Oakley, Eyewear Segment Manager, Eastman Specialty Plastics, tells us about her company’s journey within our industry.

When how did you enter the eyewear world?

Eastman’s entry into the eyewear market began in the mid-20th century with the introduction of cellulose acetate, a bio-based material derived from fast-growing softwood trees that gained extraordinary popularity in the mid-20th century when it was ubiquitous for the production of products such as automobile steering wheels and gear shifts, screwdriver handles, playing cards and ballpoint pens. 

Today, cellulose diacetate is well established as the premium eyewear material of choice for brands and designers. It is the only material that can produce the deep, three-dimensional color patterns, such as the classic Havana, that the industry is famous for. Cellulosic acetate frames feel warm to the touch, can be adjusted to fit and exhibit a beautiful, high-gloss finish in a range of colors and patterns. 

In more recent years, Eastman has introduced next-generation plastics such as Eastman Tritan copolyester that can be injection-molded for frames and lenses, are both crystal clear and incredibly tough. This offers the industry a huge amount of freedom to add or combine colors to create a final aesthetic. Tritan’s impact performance makes it perfect for sports sunglasses and for children’s eyewear that is both durable and protective. 

Eastman serves the eyewear market through selected compounders and sheet manufacturers around the world. To improve our service to the Chinese market specifically, we established a joint venture with Mazzucchelli1849, known as EMPCL. Drawing on more than 100 years of combined expertise, EMPCL provides pre-compounded high-quality acetate to leading sheet manufacturers in the region. 

How are you developing your sustainability concept in our industry?

Our current sustainability journey in eyewear began with the introduction of Eastman Acetate Renew, a fully sustainable cellulose diacetate made through Eastman’s innovative carbon renewal technology (CRT). Acetate Renew offers virgin-material performance and is composed of 60% biobased and 40% certified recycled content. In addition to diverting waste from landfill it also results in a significant reduction in greenhouse gases when compared to the traditional manufacturing process.  Acetate Renew is already available through Mazzucchelli and Hua Yi, and is being used by Thélios, Marchon and Safilo. 

We are already operating our carbon renewal technology at scale. Eastman recycled millions of pounds of waste plastic in 2020 and we expect to recycle over 20 million kg of waste through CRT in 2021. This means that we are ready to replace all our traditional acetate with fully sustainable Acetate Renew, as soon as the industry demands it.  

We are also actively working with industry partners to establish a closed loop for eyewear, where we will take back eyewear production scrap and recycle it to make new eyewear with Eastman Acetate Renew. 

For the fashion sunwear market we are introducing Eastman Tritan Renew copolyester for injection-molded frames with 50% certified recycled content*. This enables eyewear companies to improve the sustainability of a broad range of eyewear collections at a variety of price points.


How will your “sustainable” presence in the eyewear world evolve?

Our goal is to create a circular economy for the eyewear industry by taking back eyewear waste and using it as feedstock to manufacture new acetate and other durable materials with high levels of certified recycled content*. 

Using CRT we can recycle many of the materials the eyewear industry produces, including acetate, polycarbonate and acrylic. We will implement and expand our acetate take-back efforts in 2021 and create a closed-loop proposition by using the collected eyewear waste as feedstock for producing Acetate Renew. 

As a next step, we are looking for sustainable solutions for lenses, both in terms of reducing waste and offering sustainable materials. Demo lenses supplied with frames are disposed of before purchase and represent a significant source of waste. We see another opportunity in recycling demo lenses and lens production scrap via CRT to produce new eyewear materials.

Tritan is already used to produce lenses for sunglasses. We will expand and introduce the next generation of Tritan Renew products so that we can offer high clarity plastics with up to 50% recycled content* for lenses as well as frames.

Our intention is to be the supplier of the most sustainable products and solutions to the eyewear market.

*The recycled content is achieved by allocating the recycled waste plastic to Eastman Renew materials using a mass balance process certified by ISCC.