Rick Zultner may have one of the toughest jobs in the plastics industry. TerraCycle Inc. in Trenton, N.J., specializes in recycling products that no one else can recycle: things like chewing gum and drink pouches.
"I was interested in sustainability, and TerraCycle was a unique company working on the material end of life for products and packaging, he said. "My biggest challenge is developing end products for some of the materials we collect and recycle. We intentionally target difficult-to-recycle materials, so that makes this job quite a challenge."
Zultner is director of process and product engineering at the company. He has a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Rutgers University and a master's degree in green technology from the University of Southern California.
TerraCycle is Zultner's first plastics industry job. He leans on Ernel "Ernie" Simpson, the company's vice president of global research and development.
"Ernie has decades of experience in the plastics and medical device industry; he is an indispensable resource to consult and seek advice from," Zultner said.
Greatest achievement? Completing a very complex Life Cycle Assessment for a business model TerraCycle is developing.
Biggest failure and what it taught you? Losing a large client. My biggest takeaway from that is the difficulty of getting and maintaining partnerships throughout the business cycle, and especially as the market shifts.
What emerging technology or market most interests you? 3D printing. There are so many ways this type of additive manufacturing will dramatically alter the manufacturing and design world. But I think the biggest change is that this 3D printing technology will expand access to people who don't have the capital or scale to test/make an idea that they have.
What about the plastics industry surprises you? I was very surprised how big the industry was. Growing up you never realize how many things are made of plastic, and the extent that it enables so much of our lifestyles.
What is the best advice you have ever received? Always be learning. If you aren't learning then you aren't growing, and you'll become stuck.
If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first? I would have everyone in the company receive emotional intelligence training and customer service training. Automation will sweep up many route tasks in the next decade, so investing in the human side of the company will be a big differentiation between you and competitors.
What job do you really want to have in the future? I'd like to design and build the physical machines and components for equipment. I get to design the processes, but it would be cool to get more control over the machines themselves.