Cincinnati — Matt Seaholm, the new head of the Plastics Industry Association, said the trade group is "moving hot and heavy" to fill vacant positions and wants to be back at full staffing in a couple of months.
"We've got, we'll call it a dozen positions that immediately could be filled," Seaholm said during a May 24 interview at the Plastics Re|Focus Sustainability Conference & Summit, organized by the association in Cincinnati.
"I can tell you we've hired a couple of people. Not necessarily ready to announce a couple of the hires, but we're moving in the right direction and we're moving hot and heavy through that process. My hope is that we can fill out our staff in the next couple of months," Seaholm told Plastics News.
"Get us to a place where we are firing on all cylinders. Really grow the association with that. Grow the capabilities internally and build out a more robust team because there is so much we have to do. We're walking before we run right now, but I like where we are heading," he said.
Seaholm, who succeeded Tony Radoszewski, has only been on the job as CEO since late April after being the group's top lobbyist for two years. Radoszewski was fired after three years in his role in late March.
The new CEO said about half of the 12 slots to be filled are vacancies and the other half are new positions that "have been identified as additional capability gaps that we wanted to see brought in because we want to do more and better things."
Once all the open slots are filled, the trade group will have about 50 employees.
Seaholm said he was hired as CEO with a clear directive from the association's board to place an emphasis on communications, advocacy and sustainability. And he stressed to attendees at Re|Focus the importance sustainability will have within the organization under his watch.
Innovation in plastics recycling, he said, has not kept up with overall advancements in the plastics industry over time, the CEO said.
"The innovation that is driven by the industry, that we represent, that we are part of … there's no doubt has made the world a better place and will continue to do so. But, frankly, the advancement in innovation that has resulted in incredible growth in manufacturing capacity that we're seeing has far outpaced the ability to collect and sort and ultimately recycle all of the plastic products we produce. So we need to do more," Seaholm said.
He pointed to certain multilayer films as just one example of how packaging has made life easier for consumers but more difficult for recyclers. That's because mechanical recycling is limited in its ability to separate the different layers, sometimes including a layer of metal, to allow for recycling.
With those types of challenges facing the industry, Seaholm said chemical recycling, also called advanced recycling, has a place at the table in the effort to better recapture used plastics before disposal. Chemical recycling has the ability to handle plastics that mechanical recyclers find difficult to process with existing machinery.
Recycling — and not just for plastics — in the United States "was a little bit asleep at the wheel" because of export opportunities in the past.
"As long as it could be shipped overseas, particularly to China, there wasn't a need to modernize and improve the recycling infrastructure here in the United States," Seaholm said. "At the same time, we had innovation [in new products] far outpace the ability to recycle."
There is an expectation for the plastics industry to do better when it comes to sustainability, the CEO said. But there is also a need to more effectively tell the stories "about the industry stepping up and doing the right thing and really promoting sustainability."
"The No. 1 reason that I'm here today: to make very clear sustainability is going to be a top priority for the Plastics Industry Association," he told the conference crowd.