When she managed the Wilton Recycling Center in New Hampshire from 1983-87, Patty Moore expanded the range of materials collected to include plastic soda bottles and milk jugs.
The staff removed all caps and labels from the containers before they were sent to a newly purchased grinder at one of the first, if not the first, municipal plastic bottle recycling programs in the United States.
The effort was recognized as the best recycling program in 1987 by the National Recycling Coalition, and it took off across the country. PET and high density polyethylene bottle recycling increased over the next 25 years before flattening recently. In 2015, the latest figures available, 1.79 billion pounds of PET bottles and 1.14 billion pounds of HDPE bottles were recycled in the United States.
"When I began, plastic recycling was an oddity. Now it is mainstream," Moore, 59, said. "I like to think I played a significant role in making that change happen."
Moore has devoted her career to the cause. After fielding endless calls from engineers wanting insight about plastics recycling in Wilton, she decided in 1988 to study resource management at Antioch University-New England, where she earned a master's degree while launching a business.
Moore Recycling Associates opened in 1989. The Sonoma, Calif.-based consulting firm tracks and promotes the recycling of post-consumer materials through research, short- and long-term planning strategies, program management services and annual surveys of reclaimers.
The firm puts a focus on packaging and how it is collected, recycled and handled by end-use markets, including the recycling of PE film, which increased 3 percent to 1.2 billion pounds in 2015. That's up 84 percent compared to 2005 but still only represents a recycling rate of about 15 percent.
In the meantime, demand for recycled PET has reached levels where it is tracked by analysts because it has an impact on production of virgin PET.
Moore advises those considering a career in plastics: "It is not recycling unless it is replacing a product that would have been made out of virgin materials."
In February, Moore announced she had turned over the reins of the business to two of its long-time leaders. Nina Butler is the new CEO, and Stacey Luddy is chief operating officer and chief financial officer. Being the founder of a successful company and then selling it to two women, whom she had hired and mentored, was a career highlight, Moore said.
In a nod to its roots and mission, which is to accelerate the transition to a society that manages resources sustainably, the business name was changed to More Recycling.
She recommends corporate executives take the time to share their business acumen and guide promising hires.
"I encourage all CEOs to do what I am very proud of — mentor people, in my case women, new to the industry," Moore said. "My mentees now own and run the company I founded. They are More Recycling."
As for Moore, she is now president of Sustainable Materials Management of CA, which was founded to manage the day-to-day operations of environmental organizations. She describes her new work challenge as "learning how to wind down from my commitments and move from a leader to a supporting role."