Houston — Patty Long finds herself guiding the Plastics Industry Association through some choppy waters.
Long joined the Washington-based association in 2011 and became interim president and CEO in December after the death of longtime leader Bill Carteaux. She has the role at a time when the image of plastics is under attack on many fronts over sustainability, recycling and other issues.
Long addressed some of these topics in a recent interview in Houston, where the association co-hosted Global Plastics Summit 2019.
The U.S. plastics industry plans to support the Recover Act, a proposal that would use federal funding to incentivize investments at the state and local levels. That funding then could be used on projects such as retrofitting equipment at material recycling facilities (MRFs).
The Recover Act "treats recycling systems like utilities," Long said. "States and municipalities can upgrade their MRFs and recovery sites and meet challenges to advanced recycling."
She added that plastics recycling has been struggling in the U.S. and that "the real importance is to solidify what the problem is."
"There's been corporate investment into [recycling], and the industry has stepped up," Long said. "There's also a role for the federal government to play."
Recent challenges to the image of plastics have been "a turning point for the industry," according to Long. "We've been engaged in sustainability for a while — we did a beach cleanup in Miami in 2014 — and we have a positive story to tell," she said. "But we need to be more aware and try to be a solutions provider.
"That awareness has to continue, and consumers have a role to play."
Another focus for the industry is recruiting young talent, Long said.
"Job candidates need to see plastics in light of lifesaving," she added. "Plastics do a lot of great things. It's a job you can feel good about."
Prior to joining the organization, Long worked for the Asphalt Pavement Association, National Association of Manufacturers and Farley Industries Inc. At the Plastics Industry Association, she first served as director of the Processors Council and became executive vice president — its second-highest title — in December 2016.
Overall, Long has more than 30 years of experience in government relations, public affairs and communications. She's also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's School of Continuing Studies, where she teaches ethics.
The association formally began its search for a new president in February. The search is being conducted by recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles International Inc. of Chicago.