Segment manager, Tomra Recycling
Eric Olsson joined the plastics industry when he took on a role as an associate process engineer on the Marcus Hook Plant at Braskem in 2017. A graduate of the University of Mississippi with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, Olsson's wheelhouse was manufacturing and materials.
"I was excited to join Braskem because, as a young millennial, I saw an intriguing rift between society's reliance on and use of plastics with people's outwardly spoken opinion. Braskem was a natural draw as the world's leading producer of biopolymers, and I wanted to join the movement of 'greening' industrial systems," he said.
At Braskem, Olsson went on to become an associate sustainable development engineer in 2018 and a circular economy and sustainability analyst in 2019.
"I would say my greatest achievement is getting to help craft the circular economy strategy of the polymer industry with a leader like Braskem. One of Bloomberg's ranking tools recently showed Braskem's strategy as industry-leading, and that was both rewarding and also eye-opening," he said. "Getting to contribute as a young person speaks to the open-minded culture they had built, and I felt my points were actually formalized in the now-executing strategy.
"I'm also proud of the fact that we were able to get industry funding for waste recovery projects that included end markets in building and construction materials. I think we will need a way to 'lock material away' at the end of a polymer's useful life cycle," he added.
Olsson is now the plastics segment manager at Tomra Recycling, where he started in January and is based in Austin, Texas. According to the Tomra website, Olsson leads "the charge to help the plastics market transition to a circular life cycle" and supports its "area sales management team in helping customers design the best optical sorting technology configuration to improve process efficiency and recycled plastic product purity."
"I'm moving to the front lines of recycling infrastructure with Tomra. We'll be eager to talk to any groups that are serious about recycling investments and new PCR product development," he said.
What surprises him the most about the industry is "the breadth of scale of different products."
"To the average person, plastic is plastic," Olsson said, "but in our world, we know it's so much more complex than that."
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Olsson: What most interests me is implementing more sorting infrastructure in the Americas. Frankly, we haven't been limited by a technology bottleneck for quite some years. Rather, it was an implementation bottleneck. We need to bring parties together to bring more PCR online to connect back to plastics markets. When the quantity or quality of recovered material isn't sufficient for existing plastics markets, I'm extremely bullish on tying into other heavy industry's inputs (like building and construction). Nature isn't 'truly circular' in a bottle-to-bottle fashion forever, nor should industry try to be. I believe in true circularity where it makes engineering and economic sense, then I believe in locking waste away in durable end markets.
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Olsson: Joe Paolucci was an industry veteran I worked under for a couple years when I was getting my feet wet in sustainable development. He was an excellent leader to learn from.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Olsson: Be a sponge. Learn as much as you can from as many points of view as possible. Listen well to the more experienced people who decidedly choose to share their lessons with you. Connect with many different people and apply creativity and passion in your pursuits.