When she graduated from California State University, Chico, in 2004, Roxanne Spiekerman-Vaughan really did not like plastics. She equated it with a disposable economy.
“I did not want to go into plastics. I was adamant about that,” she said.
But she did know that sustainability was taking off. Post-consumer recycling. Biodegradability. So seven months after getting her degree in business administration, with an emphasis on marketing, where did Spiekerman-Vaughan get a job? At Roplast Industries Inc., a maker of polyethylene-based film and bags for department stories and grocery stores, and mailers for e-commerce.
As it turns out, Roplast is dedicated to ideas that she believes in, and plastic bags are a frugal user of natural resources.
“It's one of the best materials that are out there, the least amount of energy and water use,” Spiekerman-Vaughan said.
Her main motivation has always been Roplast's sustainability program and helping develop and sell new products made with recyclable resin, and that can be reused, themselves.
She moved up in the company after joining Roplast in Oroville, Calif., getting promoted to director of sales in 2011, then vice president of sales in 2013. In 2015, she moved into her current position, executive vice president and general manager. The quick series of promotions is easier in a small company, she said.
“It's small enough where if you are able to contribute and add value, you can get good opportunities,” Spiekerman-Vaughan said. “I was very happy and excited that they didn't want to hold me back.”
As she moved up, she got more education — completing a strategic sales management executive program at the Chicago Booth School of Business and an executive operations program at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
One constant: Pushing the move to environmentally friendly packaging. She is playing a key role in the company's new reprocessing center, which is scheduled to open in early 2017.
Spiekerman-Vaughan, 35, said: “The era of mass-producing disposable products without consciously developing ways to become more responsible for the materials we output and the end-life of our products is coming to an end.” That makes it an exciting time for young people to get into plastics.
“They're getting into it at a time when they have a real chance to make an impact,” she said. “It's fun. It's interesting. It's evolving.”
Plastic bag bans and fees surprise and frustrate Spiekerman-Vaughan, and she said the plastics industry needs to do a better job of coordinating its communication efforts. “Paper has done a very good job of really overcoming public perception. Paper is such a unified industry, but plastics is more fragmented.”
And, she said, there's no going back in this pivotal time for producer responsibility.
“It's happening, and it's going to be interesting to see how the plastics industry adapts to it. Manufacturers are going to have to be held responsible for the products they are putting out there,” Spiekerman-Vaughan said.