Jared Paben outside of ORPET, a PET bottle recycling plant in St. Helens, Ore., in May 2023.

After nine years at Resource Recycling, publisher of Plastics Recycling Update, I have decided to leave to seize life’s next adventure.

As I sit here, with leaves falling and the calendar creeping toward a new year, I can’t help but muse about change – about how much the industry has changed over the past nine years, about how much I’ve changed, and about how frightening or exciting consequential changes can be. 

When I started, in December 2014, the hot topic was the continuing switch from dual-stream to single-stream curbside collections and the accompanying increase in recycling volumes and contamination rates. 

Then, a little over two years later in early 2017, China announced it would begin cracking down on some scrap imports. That National Sword campaign led to plummeting recyclables prices, canceled curbside collections, failed businesses and an emerging (and highly regrettable) public skepticism about the viability of recycling. But the shock to the system also led to reinvestments in domestic recycling infrastructure and a much-needed re-evaluation of the structure of recycling contracts, which had generally been putting commodity price risks on the shoulders of MRFs. 

More change followed: U.S. imposition of trade tariffs, sudden changes in consumer consumption spurred by COVID-19, the rise and spread of recycling robots, a newfound sense of empowerment among labor (both organized and not), increased recognition of persistent environmental injustice, the emergence of packaging extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws in the U.S., rising awareness about the damage and scale of plastic pollution. The list goes on. 

Some of those changes were frightening, some exciting. 

As I look back, I also can’t help but reflect on how much I’ve changed over those same years – likely in ways I don’t even realize yet. While at Resource Recycling, I married the love of my life, became daddy to the most wonderful daughter a parent could hope for and bought an idyllic house in a historic neighborhood I love. 

I’ve experienced the satisfaction of learning about such a dynamic and essential industry as recycling. And I’ve enjoyed connecting with so many of the industry’s leaders, many of whom I’ve also been able to call coworkers and friends. Their knowledge and perspectives have changed how I see the world in so many ways, and for that I’m incredibly grateful. 

Changes on the horizon

Major changes are now upon me, one dreadful and another wonderful. 

For much of 2023, my mom has been battling cancer. Less than a week ago, I learned that the cancer had been deemed non-curable and she would begin to receive hospice care. Three hours ago, she died. This sudden change – of living on without this family member whom I love very much – is frightening and wholly dispiriting. 

Yet simultaneously, I’m about to experience a change I find incredibly exciting. In January, I’ll be joining the staff of Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to electronics sustainability, especially the responsible reuse and recycling of electronics. My purpose will be focused on educating people on the best practices in SERI’s R2 electronics reuse and recycling standard through a variety of channels, including articles, newsletters, social media and training. Much of my initial work will focus on developing content for the R2U program that seeks to create training programs for individuals. 

My overall goal is to continue my work in the industry by helping the world move toward a more sustainable future with electronics. 

I have no doubt that as I embark on this new employment journey, it will further evolve my worldview in ways that I can’t yet imagine. In the past, when my coworkers have left Resource Recycling to pursue other opportunities, I’ve told them that, even as I’ll miss them, I truly believe the saying that “variety is the spice of life.” Now it’s my turn to try a new flavor. 

I’ll be a Resource Recycling employee through Dec. 29, but because the last week of the month is a holiday week, my last working day will be Friday, Dec. 22. If you’d like to drop me a line before then, you can reach me at [email protected]. After that, find me on LinkedIn. 

Happy holidays, everyone, and hold your loved ones close. 

Jared Paben is the associate editor at Resource Recycling, Inc. He can be reached at [email protected] until Dec. 22.