When Aniket Vyas, 35, joined the plastics industry, he said he was "amazed by the scale of production for hygiene applications and convenience it brings to our day-to-day life that we often neglect." He worked on the elastic product development that goes onto premium diapers for baby care. "I also got great exposure and learning opportunities to work with Fortune 50 companies in the FMCG [fast-moving consumer goods] sector," he added.
Vyas started with Clopay Plastic Products Co. Inc., which was acquired by Berry Global Group Inc., as a research scientist/engineer in Mason, Ohio, in 2014. He became a principal scientist/engineer in 2018.
"My proudest professional achievement through my full-time job is to see families relaxed with comfort without worrying about baby's health or hygiene," Vyas said. "It gives meaning to our hard work to create high-quality and safe diaper components."
Vyas earned his bachelor's degree in surface coating technology from the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai, India, and his doctoral degree in material science and engineering from the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, "designing the first coated platforms for desktop 3D printers that effectively addressed the issue of failure related to nonsticking and warping of plastic filament to print bed."
That work became startup company GeckoTek 3D, which was recognized as "Biggest Breakthrough in Technology" as a MANNY Award winner, organized by Cincy Magazine. "It kick-started with a successful crowd-funding campaign followed by interest from several prominent investors," he said. "I developed and patented the invention to put my research skills for practical applications and bring a solution to a widespread problem."
Q: What is your philosophy related to plastics and sustainability? What steps have you taken to improve plastics' sustainability, either in work, your community or personal life?
Vyas: Plastic has proved to be [an] energy-efficient material, i.e., can be processed at lower energy requirements compared to metals and ceramics. Plastic has played a vital role in modernization of our society. However, the negative consequences related to plastic pollution, especially through single-use plastics have caused significant deterioration of marine life, animal life and our plants in general. The way the plastic industry has operated in the last several decades is not sustainable anymore if we want our future generation to enjoy the planet as we did. There needs to be proper and systematic regulation to monitor plastic pollution, perhaps ban or limit use of single-use plastics, provide mandatory education to common citizens on concepts of recycling and waste management.
In our organization, a significant effort is made to educate all employees, manage waste after plastic use, and throw them in an appropriate trash can (landfill, recycling, etc.). I personally pay attention to kind of plastic artifacts I am using. I avoid single-use plastics as much as possible by carrying a jute bag for groceries or using metallic or reusable plastic bottles for water. I also educate my family about the good and bad of plastic along with waste management. I have requested my residential community to place different trash cans for at least food waste and recycling waste.
At our organization, we are also monitoring energy usage, green house gas (GHG) emissions, water usage, and landfills annually and prioritizing projects to address and reduce GHGs against a set goal. We are also working with our partners to reduce the material usage in products at the same quality and performance.
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Vyas: The plastics industry is often perceived in negative light as a source of nonbiodegradable pollutants with huge energy consumption. However, what surprises me is that the plastics industry is the most energy-efficient material industry that is able to produce sufficient articles to support current population around the globe. There are so many advancements that wouldn't be possible without plastics and polymers such as lightweight rockets for space exploration; fuel-efficient lightweight automobiles; health and hygiene including baby diapers, feminine care and adult incontinence; packaging; lightweight ships with anti-corrosion coatings; biomedical advances; surgery equipment; and most recently face masks during COVID-19. There are many more examples such that modern life can't be imagined without plastics. However, the industry generally receives negative criticism.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Vyas: The R&D VP at our organization gave it during my first job: "As long as you understand polymers, the process or application doesn't matter and will not define your specialization. The field is wide open for you to explore."