Plastics News' Rising Stars program highlights the next wave in plastics industry leaders — 35 accomplished and promising millennials and Generation Zers age 35 or younger. For our class of 2023, we received nearly 100 nominations — more than any previous year — and it was a difficult task to honor just 35.
Scientists, engineers, business analysts, managers, sales representatives and company presidents provided insight into how they first became interested in plastics, their greatest accomplishments and biggest failures, how their workplace has changed since the start of the pandemic, sustainability philosophies, current challenges and even advice for the next generation.
In 2022, we added a few multiple-choice questions at the end of the nomination forms, asking questions about mental health with the pandemic, their views on the environment and how they feel about the future.
Half of this year's nominees said they have the same level of stress now vs. when the pandemic started, 24 percent are more stressed now and 26 percent are less stressed.
Rhauan Young, product sales director, wipes, for Berry Global Group Inc. in the United Kingdom, started workplace resource groups for mental health support and created a questionnaire "for managers to use with their teams to understand triggers for poor mental health and how they can support."
More Rising Stars this year said they're worried about the environment vs. last year: 45 percent are "very worried," 53 percent are "somewhat worried" and just 2 percent are not worried at all. Many noted seeing their parents recycle while growing up and others now educate their friends and families on plastics and sustainability practices and even pick up trash in their free time. Several said their love for nature and the environment influenced their education and career paths.
Nearly 99 percent of Rising Stars this year said companies either have "a great deal of responsibility" or "some responsibility" in protecting the environment. (It was 100 percent last year.)
"Plastics companies ought to be ambassadors in promoting circular economy goals and reducing plastic waste in the environment. On an individual level, I work to educate my family and friends about the benefits that plastic materials bring to our daily life and about the initiatives that the plastics industry is taking to become more sustainable," said Elva Lugo, research scientist at Dow Inc.
Katherine Barton, a senior analyst at Saudi Basic Industries Corp., said she sees herself an advocate for sustainable plastics: "Building the circular economy for plastics cannot be done alone — we need the community to recycle, we need new recycling technologies like advanced recycling, and we need value-chain collaboration, from material recovery facilities to brand owners, to make the circular economy successful."