Richard Shaw, the new Director of Circular Economy & Sustainability at AmSty, came to the company in April after wrapping up a 30-year career in the paper and packaging industry – a move he describes as a natural "hand in glove" fit.
"I came from an industry that's like plastics, responsibly using the earth's resources to make wonderful consumer products that we use every day," said Shaw, a Texas native who followed in his father's footsteps with an early career in forestry. "Being outdoors and connected to the earth, there's a lot of joy in that. It's what pulled me in that direction."
After serving in the U.S. Coast Guard for four years out of high school, Shaw earned a bachelor's degree in forest management from Texas A&M and a master's degree in forest economics at the University of Georgia. That prepared him for a position at International Paper in Arkansas in 1991, where he spent his early days managing forestland and helping to provide a sustainable supply of wood fiber to the company's manufacturing facilities.
"I had a lot of fun in the early years working in the outdoors and then I moved into rewarding business development and advocacy roles that took me across the country," he said.
His path actually crossed with AmSty years ago when he was working in the food service sector at International Paper.
"We made the paper cups you get at places like McDonald's, and those paper cups need plastic lids," he said. AmSty supplied the resin for those lids and that's when Shaw was introduced to polystyrene.
Fast forward to 2022 when Shaw and his Texas-born wife felt a calling to move back home to be closer to family. An opportunity became available at AmSty, whose headquarters is located near his hometown, and he jumped on it.
"After a meaningful career in the paper and packaging industry, helping them advance their sustainability, I chose to join the plastics industry, having been a customer and seeing an opportunity to help them along their similar sustainability journey," he said.
"Like paper, plastics are a necessary and important part of our everyday lives," said Shaw. "Where would we be without plastic? From storage bags, food packaging and take-out containers, drink bottles, computers, medical supplies, refrigerators, the pen I use at my desk – plastic is everywhere."
The key, he said, is to be renewable and sustainable. "It's about being a good steward of the planet and being responsible. I've always been wired to do the right thing and doing things in a sustainable way is clearly the right thing," said Shaw. "It helps you sleep well at night."
That's why he's excited to be in his new role at AmSty, where a significant focus will be on building markets for and telling the remarkable story of polystyrene. AmSty's innovative circular recycling technology keeps polystyrene off the land and out of the landfills by recycling polystyrene products back to their original quality and durability to be used over and over again – much like aluminum can recycling.
In particular, Shaw will develop and oversee recycling projects, and advocate on behalf of plastics circularity. It's a familiar role coming from paper, with both industries focused on sustainable solutions and both facing some public resistance.
"Plastics has public perception challenges that paper has overcome. What I want consumers to know is circular recycling isn't something far off in the future," he said. "We're doing this right now and need to grow this movement together to create a better world that we all want to be a part of."
As a long-time champion of sustainability in the paper industry, Shaw is excited about helping shape the future of AmSty, "a company that's a pioneer in plastics recycling," he said.
"AmSty has great aspirations and I want to help lead the charge on a national scale."