As CEO at for the Association of Plastic Recyclers, Steve Alexander is part cheerleader, part realist, part affably blunt and part soothsayer.
Alexander, the longtime head of APR, blends a bit of self-deprecation, a dash of dry humor and even a bit of boldness into his trade group leadership covering more than 40 years in business.
He's seen the ups and the downs, the booms and the busts of plastics recycling over the decades, and this experience helps inform him on leading APR, which has been growing in size in recent years with an ambition to be a larger voice in the societal debate on plastics, both at home and abroad.
"We will always have plastic packaging. The goal is to make it more sustainable. APR has become the leading voice as the key sustainability driver for plastic packaging by creating the tools, testing protocols and design standards to drive the creation of plastic packaging that is actually designed to be recyclable," Alexander said.
"My commitment in leading APR has always been to create the tools to ensure we can capture more discarded plastics and turn them into feedstock for secondary use," he said.
APR, in recent years, has come to own Resource Recycling Inc., which includes both the annual Plastics Recycling Conference and other trade shows in the United States as well as a trio of recycling publications: Resource Recycling, Plastics Recycling Update and E-Scrap News. Purchased from recycling industry veteran Jerry Powell, Resource Recycling is operated as an independent media company separate from the advocacy mission of APR.
Alexander understands the need for the journalism side to remain independent from advocacy; he earned a bachelor's degree in journalism at the University of Rhode Island before earning a master's degree in business administration from Loyola University.
Alexander means business when it comes to plastics recycling, but he also understands there is a need for a personal component.
"My mentor was a gentleman named Ron Duchin, a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran who served several administrations in the Pentagon and created a successful global business, all the while prioritizing family and friends," Alexander said. "He graciously provided me with strategic counsel and much more, including an office, as I founded my firm and taught me the critical lesson that, at the end of the day, family first. That philosophy has been a core aspect of our group as we have grown from one person to 22 today."
Part of his job is convincing others about the importance of recycling plastics and using more recycled plastics in packaging.
Alexander believes the biggest challenge and impact of his career regarding sustainability is helping companies connect the recycling dots: "Convincing consumer brand companies they are the ultimate supplier of feedstock for the recycled content they are requesting, thus they need to design their packaging to be recyclable and not contaminate the very stream of material they need to meet their sustainability goals," he said.
The plastics industry, he said, needs to "support mandatory recycled-content standards, which will grow and monetize the industry and demonstrate to consumers their material is actually recycled."
Alexander, who said he's optimistic about the future, is focused on the task at hand with APR. "At this point, I am not thinking beyond continuing to expand the APR footprint at the global, federal and state level and to enact policies that serve to grow plastics recycling and contribute to the expanded sustainability of plastic packaging," he said.
"I am an eternal optimist, and I believe the momentum we are currently witnessing with the technological advances in collection, sortation and package design will lead us to a time in the not-too-distant future where a plastic package made from recycled plastic will no longer be considered the exception but rather the standard in the marketplace," he said. "There are simply too many advantages to using recycled plastic from an energy reduction, environmental and economical perspective."
"As the father of four young adults, the future of our environment and the impact of climate is a major source of concern and discussion — both personally and professionally," said Alexander, a "father of four young adults."
"As the head of APR, I constantly remind audiences that recycling plastic is one impactful step that individual consumers can do to help to address the issue of climate change and carbon reduction. At APR, we believe that recycling a plastic container is a way for the individual consumer to personally participate in reducing their carbon footprint and positively impact the climate," Alexander said.
During his off time, Alexander said he enjoys "anything water-related," home remodeling, exercise, biking, reading, coaching hockey and playing sports.