Jack Milgrom, a plastics recycling pioneer who started Walden Research Inc. in Concord, Mass., died March 3 in Teaneck, N.J.
Milgrom, who was 80, died from a neurological ailment called PSP, or progressive supranuclear palsy.
As a chemical engineer, Milgrom did important research into the possibility of breaking waste plastic down, based on the original feedstocks, back into usable natural resources like oil, according to Tom Tomaszek, who ran early post-consumer plastics recycling companies.
``His forte and interest was to research plastics and find homes for plastic scrap,'' Tomaszek said.
Milgrom got interested in the plastics recycling field in the late 1970s while working at Arthur D. Little Inc. He was assigned to a project studying the growing amount of plastics entering the solid waste stream, which the management consulting firm was researching for a customer.
``He became very, very sensitized to the environmental image of plastics, especially as the packaging industry made a transition from reusables to single-serve packaging. He did a waste stream analysis, and became very interested,'' Tomaszek said. ``He saw plastic packaging as a potential problem and an industry with a lot of opportunity.''
Milgrom left Arthur D. Little and founded his own company, Walden Research, in 1983, which he named after the famous Walden Pond in Concord.
At first, for about five years, he focused on bottle-to-bottle recycling of basic resins such as PET, high density polyethylene and polypropylene, Tomaszek said. Then Milgrom became fascinated with breaking down polymers in commingled plastic scrap. He became an expert in compatibilizers.
``He tried to look at the chemical approach,'' said Tomaszek, who now runs D&A Associates, a plastics equipment sales firm in Blackstone, Mass.
Tomaszek said Milgrom's later work involved ``landfill mining,'' the practice of excavating waste plastics from landfills to get usable material.
Milgrom was a frequent speaker at recycling seminars. He was very math-oriented and old-school, using slide rules and finally a bulky, early calculator.
``He was extremely analytical,'' Tomaszek said.
Milgrom got so caught up in his work at Walden Research that he sometimes forgot to put on his shoes and worked in his slippers, Tomaszek recalled.
``He was a true absent-minded professor.''
He is survived by his wife, Naomi Kantey.