Ultimately, the goal is not only to find a way to effectively recycle vehicle parts and films, but also figure out how to manage any material stream that isn't currently being efficiently managed.
Richardson sees the need for plastics only growing in coming years.
"Lightweighting initiatives in the auto industry, medical devices, clothing, you name it — the amount of new plastic products that are being generated and the demand for the types of performance criteria for products is driving us more toward plastics than ever before," he said.
And consumer awareness of sustainability issues is growing, a powerful incentive for consumer products companies to tackle the recyclability issue.
"I think companies are more interested now than they have been in the past in engaging in these sustainability projects," Richardson said. "Consumer awareness is obviously very high around recycling, and if you want to give your consumers what they're asking for — which is sustainable products and recyclability within companies and zero waste-to-landfill — then eventually you have to get on board with figuring out how you're going to do it."
That starts with getting the word out that the products can be recycled, and how. A recyclable plastic water bottle can still end up in a landfill without a clear and established recycling system.
"We need to figure out — not as a company, not as a country, but as a planet at large — we need to figure out how to effectively recycle and reuse these materials," he said. "Because there's no reason why they can't be recycled and reused."
Mark Richardson was working in academia when he originally joined the Society of Plastics Engineers, on a mission to develop a workforce pipeline of engineers with plastics expertise.
Leading a program
With support from SPE, Richardson led a program at Kettering University in Flint, Mich., where he encouraged students to tap into the SPE network themselves.
Addressing a sustainability problem in the industry
Richardson sees sustainability as a critical issue for the industry.
He continues that work at Series One, which joined the Plastics Industry Association and is working with member companies on recycling projects involving end-of-life vehicles and plastic films.
The aim of the projects is to generate real data about how to recycle and reuse the materials.
'Lightweighting initiatives in the auto industry, medical devices, clothing, you name it — the amount of new plastic products that are being generated and the demand for the types of performance criteria for products is driving us more toward plastics than ever before.'
Mark Richardson, Kettering University