For more than 30 years, Curt Cozart has been involved in plastics sustainability. These days, he's living his dream.
First working on a polyethylene film recycling project for Mobil Chemical, his plastics sustainability journey also has included years running his own consultancy, Common Sense Solutions, as well as serving as chief operations officer for the Association of Plastic Recyclers since 2021.
During that time, Cozart has left his mark on a variety of efforts that help shape the plastics industry today. That includes his work starting nearly a decade ago on APR's Design Guide for Plastics Recyclability, a publication that helps designers and brand owners determine whether their packaging is truly recyclable. While APR has hands in many aspects of plastics recycling, the Design Guide is viewed by association officials as a fundamental offering from the organization because of its impact on the recycling market.
"In 2014, I was asked to lead the redesign efforts of the Design Guide for Plastics Recyclability by the Association of Plastic Recyclers and have continued to manage this program ever since. Much of the structure that has helped the Design Guide achieve worldwide success was due to these efforts," Cozart said. "In 2016, I was lead consultant in developing a PET preparation process that has been used in every new U.S. plastic plant since.
"In 2016, I also created the APR design guide training program to help companies design packaging for recyclability and have given over 40 full-day training sessions to nearly 3,000 packaging designers and engineers," he said.
Cozart's career highlights include working as an officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 1984-89 before becoming a plant maintenance supervisor from 1989-90 and then a senior project engineer from 1990-94 for Mobil Chemical Co.
He followed that up by a stint as general manager of ADF Technology from 1994-97 and then starting his own consultancy in 1997.
"I started in plastics sustainability in 1991 when I was asked to manage the PE film recycling project for Mobil Chemical. At that time, all the major chemical companies were constructing plastics recycling plants. As one of the world's largest producers of stretch film, Mobil chose to build a plant to recycle that material. The recycling plant produced not only a resin but a stretch film from that recycled material, probably being one of the first truly circular plastic products," Cozart said.
"Before leaving Mobil, I was tasked with redesigning the plastics side of their composite products division, which later spun off and became Trex, still the largest recycler of that material even 30 years later. At that point, I caught the recycling bug and have worked in the space ever since, first, by starting and running ADF Technology, the U.S. arm of Italian recycling equipment supplier Sorema, then though Common Sense Solutions," he explained.
Cozart said he has "played integral roles in the vast majority of the U.S. plastic recycling infrastructure by designing, improving, constructing and selling plants for PE film, PET, high density PE and other polymers. During my tenure, Sorema enjoyed a 90 percent U.S. market share for large PET recycling plants."
The APR official and consultant said his die was cast in the plastics recycling industry thanks to his work at Mobil all those years ago.
"Mobil was structured very much like the military that I was accustomed to. I got hooked into recycling with the first plant I built. The variety of processes that needed to come together to make the plant work intrigued me. Mechanical, chemical, liquid, hydraulic and thermodynamic processes supported and relied on each other," he remembered.
But that was then, and this is now.
"Today, while I continue to design and improve recycling plants through Common Sense Solutions, I also run operations at APR. While the types of plants have changed a bit — now secondary sorting facilities, [polypropylene] and chemical recycling plants — much of the concerns remain the same. APR has grown into a respected force, and the focus is global design alignment and the design guide user experience," he said.
He points to his work with APR's Design Guide as having the biggest impact on sustainability during his career.
"Through the APR Design Guide for Plastics Recyclability, we have identified many areas needing innovation and improvement — nonsortable black colorants, barriers, poorly designed labels and other design features. While companies have created really innovative solutions to some of these problems, brands are many times reluctant to adopt them," he said.
"This is a constant source of frustration. Brands need to understand that they are their own supplier of recycled material. Their design choices impact the quality of the PCR they will be able to purchase," Cozart said.
Cozart, who enjoys working on Victorian homes, skiing and paddle boarding, said he is at a point in his life where he is content in what he does.
"I've worked all my life to get where I'm at," he said. "So many young engineers want to do what I do. I tell them, 'In 30 years, you can.' I don't want to be anywhere else. I have my dream job."