Most plastics recycling professionals have likely benefited from the work of Patty Moore.

Since the 1980s, she and her company Moore Recycling Associates have been central to a wide variety of industry advances, including improved data, bolstered relationships with overseas buyers and growth in film collection.

This winter Moore officially handed over the reins of Moore Recycling to staffers Nina Butler and Stacey Luddy as Moore herself moves into partial retirement. She will continue to participate in the industry as head of a new firm, Sustainable Materials Management of California.

Patty Moore Hong Kong ferry 1996

Patty Moore on a market research trip to China in 1996. The skyline of Hong Kong is in the background.

Moore started her career by managing a rudimentary municipal recycling operation, then worked on plastics recycling projects for Resource Integration Systems, and went out on her own to start Moore Recycling in 1989 with business partner Doug McDowell.

The consultancy’s work has helped the industry produce higher quality bales and push forward demand among brand owners and other end users. Moore Recycling also works with the American Chemistry Council and other groups to produce key annual reports on recovery of plastic bottles, film and non-bottle rigid plastic.

She puts it all in pretty straightforward terms: “Our work has focused on identifying, quantifying and removing barriers to increased recycling, particularly for plastic.”

Plastics Recycling Update recently sat down with the energetic industry veteran to learn more about what shifts she has seen in 30 years in the business, what stands out from her many trips to China, and who she thinks will be carrying the industry torch going forward.

How did you first get into the industry?
I was in New Hampshire where I worked at an apple orchard in the fall (picking) and spring (pruning). I needed a job in between seasons and saw that the Wilton (N.H.) Recycling Center had an opening for a weekend manager. I left Wilton that fall to pick apples again. After harvest – with money in my pocket – I was all set to spend the winter in Baja California when the center’s manager called me to say she was leaving and I should become the manager. That’s when I decided to “get real.”

Patty and the New Jersey Recycle Pete

Hanging out with Pete, a bottle recycling mascot, in New Jersey in 1990.

Were you working much with plastics in that role?
I expanded the scope of what was collected for recycling, notably with a plastic soda bottle and milk jug recycling program. We purchased a grinder and set up bins. Since there were no HDPE reclaimers at that time, we removed all caps and cut the labels off each bottle. With the journey of the Mobro garbage barge in the media all through spring and summer of 1987, I began to receive many calls from large consulting engineering firms. Realizing that as a municipal official managing “the dump” my income was far lower than theirs, I decided to go back to school and get my masters degree in resource management at Antioch New England University.

When did you realize the recycling industry was the right place for you?
I was immediately fascinated with recycling. It encompasses people from all socioeconomic levels, genders and ages, and it includes elements of marketing, data analysis, accounting, outreach, R&D and politics. The industry appealed to me right away.

What are the most critical shifts in plastics recycling you’ve seen in your time in the trenches?
Collection has moved from PET and HDPE bottles only to all bottles to all rigid plastics. Education has moved away from using the resin identification code to product descriptions, such as “all plastic bottles and containers.” Sorting technology has advanced from mostly hand sorting to multiple auto- and mechanical-sort systems. I’ve also seen plastic recycling move from an optional material, to a material consumers expect to be able to recycle. In fact, PET bottle recycling is successful enough that analysts track rPET generation because it materially impacts virgin PET production. Lastly, Moore Recycling helped launch and grow film recycling. largely through the creation of, into a commonly recycled material.

Talk a little bit about where your recycling roles have taken you around the world. Are there any travel anecdotes that really stand out?

Because China was a major purchaser of plastic scrap from the early 1990s until recently, I visited many times. The first visit was in 1996, I went as part of a U.S. State Department mission on plastics. I was the only U.S. participant interested in recycling, but there was a strong interest by our hosts in learning about how they could source scrap plastic.

Patty at the Great Wall of China

Feeling good on the Great Wall in 1996.

At that time, China was just emerging from the economic reforms of 1978. Most of the meetings were very formal and scripted, but I spent one day away with an early state-owned PET bottle reclaimer. They picked me up in a black military car – ignoring all rules of the road – and drove me to the facility, where they showed me a movie they’d made about the facility that stressed their modern technology (without showing it).
I was then able to tour the yard and look through a very small window at the top of a carpeted ramp, both of which I am sure they created just for me, to see the “reclamation area.” I could see nothing but steam, but they assured me several times that it was “all automated.” I’ve been back to China many times, and each time I see more and more technology and less hand-work. Now large reclamation facilities in China really are automated, looking very much like what you would see in the U.S.

Who are the people you see as having a positive influence on the recycling industry today and in the past?
One cannot ignore the ongoing and positive affect that Resource Recycling (publisher of Plastics Recycling Update) has had on the recycling industry in the U.S. Jerry Powell’s occasional strategic editorials rebuking segments of our industry for a lack of action or poor behavior are seldom ignored, and the articles have enlightened and informed our industry since the magazine’s founding.

In addition, there would not have been an effective national organization during recycling’s major growth period if it had not been for Cliff Case. My personal mentors also shaped the course of plastic recycling over many years: Floyd Flexon, Michael Schedler, Jery Huntley and Ralph Simoni.

Going forward I believe that David Allaway [from the state of Oregon], Dylan de Thomas [of The Recycling Partnership], and Nina Butler [who worked under Moore and is now taking over the consultancy] will prove to be prime movers for many years to come. All of them have already significantly and positively influenced our industry.

Are there any ways you think the industry is coming up short?

Patty Moore recycled fashion

A trash fashion outfit Moore made for a recent Association of Oregon Recyclers event.

Retailers need to continue to put pressure on their suppliers to provide products that are designed for recycling and, even more importantly, that contain post-consumer resin (PCR). If PCR is not appropriate or available for brand companies to use in their products and packaging, then those companies should purchase other products, such as pallets and crates, that contain PCR made from their products. And they should be given credit for using that PCR.

Also, if we had a common national – or at least regional – set of materials collected, it would go a long way toward reducing consumer confusion.

In addition, the United States can’t expect to achieve high recycling rates without substantive public policy initiatives. Recycling is a national priority in every part of the world that has high recycling rates. As a start, recycling should be mandatory and harmonized across jurisdictions.

What gives you hope about plastics recycling and sustainability as a whole moving forward?
I have seen almost constant growth in both the volume and types of plastic that are recycled. I know we are having a tough period, but I remain convinced that the inherent value in scrap plastic will continue to push the types and number of plastic materials recycled.

I am particularly encouraged that data-based sustainable materials management (SMM) continues to gain tenability. SMM necessitates that recycling should not happen for recycling’s sake, but to reduce negative environmental impacts. We are headed the right direction.