When he was 15, Kurt Duska would ride his bike to an injection molding shop that his father started with some friends and a couple of 1960s Natco model injection molding machines.
Duska ran the presses on the third shift by himself, producing toy parts for slot car enthusiasts.
"I was hooked the first time I saw a Marx Toy racetrack fall out of the mold. Some people remember the smell of an apple pie; I remember fondly the scent of HIPS," Duska said of high impact polystyrene.
He has been in the industry ever since and now has 40 years of experience in the areas of molding, assembly and recycling.
After high school, Duska went on to earn a bachelor's degree in industrial management/engineering from Gannon University. Through college he worked at Engineered Plastics LLC, a custom molding business that specialized in utilization of recycled content.
"They have molding and recycling facilities in Erie, Pa.," Duska said. "We specialized in structural parts with added value. I was ahead of the curve for recycling and recycled content; it opened a lot of doors for me."
In 1986, Duska co-founded a business, D&D Plastics, that merged with Engineered Plastics in 1988. Duska eventually became president and bought out the other owners.
Duska oversaw Engineered Plastics after it grew to four facilities totaling 320,000 square feet and 250 employees with molding in Lake City, Pa., and assembly in Erie, Pa.
"In 2002, we lost our largest customer to China, and this was 50 percent of our business," Duska said. "I underestimated global competition and didn't expand our capabilities. I learned that you need to be aware of global impact/trends and offer something to separate yourself from the competition."
That he has done.
Now the president of Girard, Pa.-based Kurt Duska Sales & Consulting, Duska said he learned another big lesson five years after half his business moved overseas.
"I believe one person can make a difference and to start small," Duska said, pointing to a serendipitous seating on a plane in 2007 next to someone who worked for a large international medical manufacture.
"She said, 'I wish we could recycle our used IV bags at hospitals,'" Duska said.
He ran with the idea, applying for a $500,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to buy Erema equipment to start a recycling operation.
Recycling projects became Duska's focal point. He sold his ownership of Engineered Plastics in 2012 but stayed on in sales and consultant roles before retiring from it in 2022.
"I realized I would much rather work on sustainability projects than run a business with four facilities and 250 employees," Duska said.
Now he's a full-time consultant, mostly working in sustainability, recycling of plastics and other materials, and the utilization of recycled content.
"I am working on PCR [post-consumer], PIR [post-industrial], hospital recyclables as well as replacing virgin plastics in all plastic processes," Duska said. "I get to do the fun stuff, climb through garbage, run test and trials, and hopefully make a difference."