Kristen Rinehart knows the importance of recycled materials in her role at Advanced Drainage Systems in Hilliard, Ohio.
Rinehart sees the plastics industry needing to improve on its value for quality products and materials.
"Recycled plastics are a commodity. Bale loss due to mixed plastic materials and other contaminants is challenging the economic viability of the market. The key to making a quality product is the quality of your materials," Rinehart said.
"We need to stop designing contaminants into our bottles, tubs, lids, bags if we want to recycle those materials into another quality package or product in the future. Design for recyclability is a must," she said.
Rinehart graduated with a bachelor's degree in manufacturing engineering technology from the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Rinehart has had many different roles throughout different companies.
She started out at Ford Motor Co. from 1993-2007 with leadership roles in plant management, operations, quality, planning and engineering. She owned a convenience store from 2007-09, then came back into manufacturing with roles at Shaw Development, Pall Aeropower Corp. and Magna Interiors.
Then Rinehart got a job at Wilbert Plastic Services and started out as the business unit manager from 2014-15, then she was the director of engineering from 2015-18 and the vice president and general manager of injection molding from 2018-22.
Rinehart officially started at ADS as the vice president and general manager of recycling in 2022.
While working through all those different companies and different jobs, Rinehart still is hoping to become a chief operating officer or a president of a manufacturing company.
At ADS, Rinehart has assisted with the 2023 sustainability report, which highlighted the company's environmental impact, operational excellence and collaborations.
"Plastics enhance the lives of humans," Rinehart said. "There comes a responsibility to reduce, reuse and recycle the plastic materials to provide us comfort, convenience and enjoyment. There is a market for recycled plastic materials, so we must all participate and support the growth and technological advancement of the existing recycling infrastructure we have today. ADS recycling plants sort, grind, wash, pelletize and formulate recycled plastics."
ADS has been working toward a 10-year goal and wants to recycle 1 billion pounds of recycled material used annually by 2032. It also plans to implement supplier sustainability programs to allow for more transparency within the industry.
The company is also looking for more ways to promote circularity and partner with local waste management companies to source post-consumer plastics. ADS is one of the largest plastics recyclers in North America.
"ADS pipe and chamber manufacturing plants consume over half a billion pounds of recycled high density polyethylene and polypropylene each year," Rinehart said. "What better way to keep recycled materials in the circularity loop than keeping these materials in use upward of 100 years at a time while managing stormwater."
Her biggest challenge within the sustainability industry is "the ability to get a consistent supply of quality recycled feedstock," Rinehart said.
Rinehart sees the future of the environment and is "somewhat worried," and she feels that companies have a great deal of responsibility when it comes to protecting the environment. But she is optimistic about the future.
With the emerging new technologies, Rinehart is most excited about near-infrared sorting technology being scaled throughout the material recovery facilities.
Other involvements by Rinehart are through the Plastic Pipe Institute, Association of Plastic Recyclers and Keep Ohio Beautiful. She also attends events such as Resource Recycling Conference, GreenBiz, Companies for Net Zero and NPE.
Rinehart looks up to people within the plastics industry.
"Bo Rhudy ... taught me about plastics manufacturing and chemistry early in my career, and Greg Botner ... taught me everything about the plastic molding business," Rinehart said.
During her downtime, Rinehart likes to socialize with her friends and family, do renovation projects, cook and travel.