Angela Smith has been in the plastics industry for decades, starting out when she was still a teenager.
And now nearly three decades later, she's using her varied experiences to show her own daughter what is possible in the business if she works hard, pays attention and asks questions.
Plastics is all Smith has ever really known in her professional career. It's shaped her and allowed her to grow in the field, gathering knowledge all along the way.
But it always hasn't been easy.
Smith spent more than 17 years at a Berry Plastics plant in Richmond, Ind., as a laboratory technician and figured she would be there much longer. The company is now known as Berry Global Group Inc.
But with the death of her husband in 2005, and three children to continue raising, plans changed.
"I had to make a decision, otherwise I would have never left Berry. I took that break to raise them," she remembered. "When they were old enough to be on their own, that's when I got back into the plastics recycling. Plastics is pretty much all I know. It's all I've ever done.
"At the time I left Berry, I thought that was my biggest failure," she said, about leaving the business. But with her children raised, new doors opened and she had the opportunity to re-enter the plastics world in 2012, going to work for PET recycler Perpetual Recycling of Richmond. That's where the former lab tech started to experience the recycling side of the business. "It was good timing for me," she recalled.
And now, after five years at Perpetual, Smith finds herself working at Carpet Landfill Elimination and Recycling LLC of Lincoln, Calif. That's where she's helping implement a quality control program as an administrative assistant.
She readily admits she didn't know much about recycling before she entered that side of the business, but now she is a firm believer and urges others to pay attention.
"When I went into the recycling business, that was a totally different realm from Berry. But I was very good at it because I had worked at Berry," Smith said.
"Staying in the same industry and watching it change and grow. I feel like I've just grown with it," she said. "I've moved a long way up since I left Berry."
And, now, Smith has witnessed her own daughter enter the plastics business as she works for Primex Plastics Corp., also of Richmond.
She also sees the growing interest in recycling as providing job opportunities for others as that industry grows and evolves.
Her advice to anyone interested in plastics: "Enter it early, learn as much as you can, and also pay attention to the recycling aspect of it. ... When I started, recycling was not really a big world. Now it is," Smith said. "My daughter is actually entering that world. I told her the same thing. Pay attention. Because in 20 years, this will be a totally different thing. We're evolving. We should be evolving in the U.S.
"I think if you stay with it and learn as much as you can, in 20 years, recycling will be bigger. I think there will be more plants of different sorts. That would be my advice to anybody entering plastics, if they like it.
"You have to like what you're doing. And I love what I'm doing," Smith said.