David D. Cornell, a Plastics Hall of Fame member and former Eastman Chemical Co. employee who later served as a consultant, died Oct. 18 at age 76.
Called by one colleague "one of the giants of the plastics recycling industry," Cornell staked out a position for himself in the early days of PET bottle development and plastics recycling, according to a 2018 profile published in Plastics News.
"Our industry is in a better place because of Dave Cornell," said Tom Busard, chairman of the National Association for Plastic Container Resources. "I am proud and fortunate to have known and worked with Dave. His intelligent, thoughtful approach and dedication to the PET industry is unparalleled."
Cornell also worked for more than two decades as a consultant for NAPCOR and the Association of Plastic Recyclers.
"His ability as a technical writer was unmatched," NAPCOR Executive Director Laura Stewart said in a statement. "Making complex technical subjects simple is his signature. Dave was a consummate learner and remained up to date on industry news and events to the end."
After a 28-year career in plastics at Eastman, Cornell went on to serve as technical director of APR starting in 1994, a position he held for more than 20 years before stepping back to spend more time at home to care for his family in 2015.
While at Eastman, the company became a founding member of NAPCOR in 1987. Cornell played a key technical role, according to the 2018 profile.
Cornell, for his own part, said at the time that he was overwhelmed by his induction into the Hall of Fame.
"I am not the guy who has started a company, and many of the Hall of Fame members are the folks who have started companies, the titans of industry. I am not an academic. There are several Hall of Fame inductees who are academics," he said in a video made to recognize him at the time. "I am what would be referred to as a working stiff."
"I was able to go outside of one company and interact with other companies, other organizations for which I am very grateful for the opportunity," Cornell said.
Part of that work, creating protocols and standards for recycling testing and design were foundational for the industry, APR President Steve Alexander said when Cornell was honored.
"His technical knowledge combined with his understanding of the recycling process was unparalleled, and were a major factor in the growth of the industry over the past 20 years," Alexander said in a statement after his passing. "Dave was an engineer's engineer. He will be missed.
"Many of the technical standards and programs that exist in the plastics recycling industry owe their existence to Dave. An avid historian, he loved nothing more than holding fort on a wide variety of topics, and was an avid outdoorsman," Alexander said.
Alexander previously called him "arguably one of the most influential voices in the history of the plastics recycling industry" when Cornell entered the Hall of Fame.
Cornell was nominated to the Hall of Fame by Edward Socci, director of beverage packaging research and development for PepsiCo Inc.
"Dave Cornell is one of the giants of the plastics recycling industry," Socci wrote in the nomination.
Cornell started working at Eastman in 1973, first as a PET plant supervisor. He worked at the company until 2000. After his stint with APR, he stayed connected to plastics through his own consultancy.
"He had a lasting impact on so many, and all of us will carry special memories that we will rekindle over the coming weeks, months and years — whether they include stories about his beloved Tennessee or as a champion for the PET molecule," Stewart said.
Cornell is the only representative of the plastics recycling sector in the Hall of Fame, Alexander said.
Cornell also worked for PET consultancy SBA-CCI Inc.
While many are familiar with the storied accomplishments in plastics that earned Dave his induction into the Plastics Hall of Fame, there was another side of him. In college, he was a collegiate marksman on the university shooting team. He coached recreational volleyball teams to championship seasons. Later in life, he volunteered as a docent at a city nature park. During the Vietnam years, he built jet aircraft engines, said John Maddox, president of SBA-CCI, in a statement.
"Dave was the best to work with — professional, intelligent, disciplined, likable, and he always contributed brilliant thinking and analysis," Maddox said.
Cornell was married to Roberta "Bobbie" Cornell for 52 years. He is survived by Bobbie and sons Matthew P. Cornell (wife Kimberly McDonald) of Loganville, Ga., and Andrew R. Cornell (wife, Susan Stapleton) of Nashville, Tenn.; and granddaughter, Clara Cornell.