Plastics Recycling Update

Editor’s farewell: Gratitude for a decade of sector connection

Dan Leif, the outgoing editorial director of Resource Recycling, on a facility tour earlier this year. | Jared Paben/Resource Recycling

I’ve always encouraged our editorial team to get straight to the point, so I will do that here: After more than 10 years at Resource Recycling, I am off to explore new endeavors. My tenure with the company ends this Friday.

Writing those words feels a bit surreal, to be honest. Though I’ve now been part of this outstanding organization for more than a decade, it feels like just a few months ago that I was first walking into the Resource Recycling offices in Portland, Ore. to meet Jerry Powell, the magazine’s outspoken founder. (Resource Recycling publishes Plastics Recycling Update.)

At that point, I had already gone through one round of interviews with other staff members, and I expected I’d be trying to impress Jerry about my experience working at different trade publications through my 20s.

It quickly became clear, however, the conversation would be matter-of-fact.

Did I understand Resource Recycling covers materials management as a business, not just an environmental undertaking? Yes. Would I be able to go to company conferences and work long days there? Sure. Did I know anything about the country’s waste infrastructure? Not at all, but I was willing to learn.

“OK, I’m good,” Jerry said, standing up. Apparently, I had the job.

In the years since that abbreviated meeting, much has transpired in the world of municipal recycling. National Sword. The introduction of artificial intelligence at MRFs. A global pandemic. Packaging EPR in the U.S.

As I’ve worked to cover all the industry shifts, there’s also been a constant, a characteristic that Jerry teased out when he interviewed me back in 2013: In this business, if you show up and stay curious, you are destined to find your footing – and maybe even find yourself.

After a few years with the company, I became the leader of the editorial side of Resource Recycling, taking the reins from my excellent predecessor, Dylan de Thomas, in late 2016.

When Jerry retired in early 2019, selling the company to the Association of Plastic Recyclers, I started to become the public face of Resource Recycling, regularly getting up on stage at our conferences and others, moderating webinars, and serving as the company rep at facility tours and a wide range of industry events.

In this business, if you show up and stay curious, you are destined to find your footing – and maybe even find yourself.

In this process, I have gained the insight and confidence to weigh in on critical issues via the physical and virtual pages of Resource Recycling.

More significantly, I’ve had the chance to get to know the individuals who make materials go round – local program coordinators, MRF managers, brokers, sustainability executives, industry association representatives, equipment specialists, consultants and others.

The more I have come to know about the industry, the more I have come to respect many of the people at the heart of it. These are curious souls who are fascinated by the stuff the rest of society just wants to get rid of, who see opportunity and upsides in discards, who know we have a responsibility to understand there is no such place as “away.”

The truth is that waste (or, more specifically, waste reduction) is now embedded deep within my being. Although the time has come for me to step away from Resource Recycling and its talented staff, my plan is to continue to find ways to analyze, contextualize and tell critical industry stories in the years ahead (though I will first be taking some time off for a few long-delayed personal projects). 

As I told Jerry at that interview over 10 years ago, I am here because I am willing to learn. The beauty of waste is that the learning can continue over the course of a lifetime – and that it connects you with the lives of others.

I hope to see many of you wherever the recycling stream takes me next. I’m not entirely sure where the path leads, but I do know there will be plenty of innovative individuals along the way.

To reuse a phrase from Jerry: I’m good.

Dan Leif is the outgoing editorial director of Resource Recycling, Inc. and can be contacted through Nov. 3 at

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