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5/6/2018 | 2 MINUTE READ

David Cornell: Setting the Technical Foundation of Recycling

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Considered a pioneer in defining the processes to produce bottle-grade PET and later helping set the guidelines for recycling, David Cornell earned a spot in the Plastics Hall of Fame this year.

NPE2018 Exhibitor

Eastman Chemical Company

Booth: Room S230D

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David Cornell started his plastics career using polymeric materials and composites in the aerospace industry around 1969. Then, he shifted to commodity and specialty thermoplastics in 1973. Cornell is considered a pioneer in the development and commercialization of programs to create and define the specific formulations and manufacturing processes for making bottle grade PET, at Eastman Chemical Corp.

Follwing that work, Cornell went on to become a champion of plastics recycling as the technical director of the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR). Among his achievements, he can count APR’s packaging design guidelines, cooperative testing programs, science-based position statements and recognition programs.

The strong foundation that David established became the basis for rational discussion and decision-making between package innovators, materials suppliers, plastics recyclers and other stakeholders in the plastics and plastics recycling supply chains. The APR Design Guide and Critical Guidance Test Protocols helped set national and global recycling standards.

Regarding the future of the plastics industry in the recycling area, he mentions that if a design forces incompatible materials together, the recycling potential drops. “Contamination in designs is a problem,” Cornell says. “Items need to be made per sound design for recycling principles. Then the collection of used items needs to be enhanced, recognizing that different materials will have a different critical mass to make the business of plastics recycling profitable. There is much room for process improvements to restore used plastic to commerce. And the use of used plastic in making the next item needs to be seen as a good feature, not a detriment. There has always been public interest in recycling plastics with the interest waxing and waning. Today we seem to be in the zone of increased interest and that is the time to institutionalize design, collection, processing, and content features.” 

Regarding how the industry has changed since he entered, Cornell recognizes that the aerospace sector has evolved with greater understanding of adhesives and composite materials, while the polyester industry has shifted from being nearly exclusively for staple fiber to a better mix of yarn, films, and bottles.

“In the 1960s, we were still understanding how this marvelous material,” Cornell says. “Thermoplastics was really different from metals. Many early plastic parts tried to replicate metals parts, and the designs failed. The public saw failed parts and blamed the plastic. The real problem often was poor design. The public equated inexpensive with low quality and that has been a decades-long perception battle to revise opinions. The public does appreciate some plastic uses: people speak of nylon carpets, not plastic carpets, and polyester/cotton blend shirts, not plastic shirts. The public perception of value is a continuing education.”

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