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On a Mission to Conquer the Plastics Recycling Challenge

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I have always been fascinated by spaceflight and, in particular, the Apollo project.

I was a child during those years and have vivid memories of Neil Armstrong's famous first steps onto the lunar surface. I still have the newspaper from that morning, proclaiming "Man on Moon!"

That accomplishment was a triumph brought about by the collective might of thousands of engineers, working together and in parallel, to solve a singular, visionary goal.

In the plastics industry today, we too have a singular, visionary goal – to make plastic products infinitely circular. We endeavor to break the make-use-discard paradigm and create an enduring and environmentally sound circular plastics economy.

Fear and Unintended Consequences

Thinking about our return to the moon with the Artemis project, I happened to listen recently to President John F. Kennedy's famous and visionary speech about Apollo made at Rice University in June of 1962. He said "We meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds."

It struck me that his words were apropos to the current discourse on plastic waste. Fear and ignorance around the plastics problem are driving responses and regulations that are leading to unintended consequences and, unfortunately, worse sustainability outcomes for society.

This is understandable as policy makers strive to do something, anything, to impact carbon emissions and deal with the problem of litter on land and sea. And, it needs to be said – a recycling system for plastic waste was never built, leading to the problems we have today.

Innovating for a Sustainable Future

As a chemical engineer, I have always found that building a knowledge base is the cornerstone to solving any problem. In the plastics industry, this is a shared belief. We are an industry of highly motivated, creative problem solvers.

I have been fortunate to be a part of the leadership of our industry in recent years to create a path forward to take the issues of recycling, litter, carbon emissions and waste collection, and create a durable, lasting solution.

And as President Kennedy explained – the more we learn, the more we realize the price of our ignorance. We want to be an industry that recognizes problems, brings change, provides hope, and leans on scientific knowledge to create a sustainable and healthy future for everyone.

Kennedy gave us the vision, "because this goal (Apollo) will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we're willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone."

We feel the same way, and are on our own mission, one that we are willing to accept and drive forward as an industry, and I could not be prouder to a part of it. 

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