An innovator in his field, Dennis Denton founded Denton Plastics 35 years ago after he recognized what he says was a win-win situation. “The need to recycle more plastic was becoming more obvious,” Denton says of his earlier days. “I was able to help the environment, create a small business and establish a beachhead to show it can be done economically.”

Since then, the Portland, Oregon-based manufacturer and supplier of resins has evolved into a world leader in waste reduction and plastic processing solutions, serving suppliers and manufacturers worldwide.

Denton himself also has flourished in the industry, serving in several roles, including on the international board of directors for the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE), where he was a founder of the SPE Sustainability Division. He is active in the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and was a founding partner in the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling venture ORPET, which is based in Oregon and recycles 25 million pounds of PET annually. As chairman of Denton Plastics, Denton continues to be a driving force in developing sustainable solutions that serve the needs of business and the environment.

What are your roots in the plastics recycling industry? I read an article about recycling in general and the coming problem of plastic becoming such a major commodity. I wanted to do something in the environmental field and help create answers within the recycling industry. I got involved with a small company in 1980 and started Denton Plastics in 1983.

How have you seen plastics recycling change over the years? When we began supplying reduced-cost resin to molders in the ’80s, they would buy on the condition that we did not tell anyone because it was recycled and had a bad connotation. Today’s pull-through demand creates not only a bigger market, but people want their customers to know they are being environmentally conscious by using recycled materials in their products.

Denton Plastics has proved itself as an innovator—what are some examples? Before curbside recycling, Denton Plastics put several programs in place, [including] local recycling contests at grade and middle schools. We had a drop-off location at our manufacturing facility where people came from all over the state to drop [off] recycled plastic. We helped grocery chains have recycling events. Our most recent success has been teaching all the local hospitals how to recycle their plastic by buying their scrap materials to help them offset their costs.

What lessons have you learned about the industry that have helped you throughout the years? The most important thing I have learned about the industry is the volatility. When you are in a commodity-based business, price fluctuations can happen at any time. The best thing to do to counteract that is to not try to play the market.

What advice can you offer to younger plastics recyclers entering the market? Once you have identified your raw material source and your end markets, never give up.

Where do you see upcoming opportunities and challenges for plastics recycling? Upcoming opportunities revolve around China and the Far East’s reluctance to handle materials collected in the United States. The biggest challenge for plastic recycling is creating the proper streams to get to a plastic recycling facility.

What roles have you held over the years and in what ways have you contributed to the industry? I have been involved in several task forces to help solve the problem of plastic recycling. I have been involved in city, state and regional groups to brainstorm for answers. I joined the SPE (Society of Plastics Engineers) in 1983 to educate myself about our industry. In 1993 I helped form Division 40 of the SPE the plastic recycling division. During the ensuing years I held all of the offices going up the chain to chairman to 1998. We created the ARC (Annual Recycling Conference) 1996. The ARC, which I chaired in 1996, was part of our involvement to make recycling a mainstream industry. I have been a driving force in championing the use of recycled material in nonfood, nonmedical grade applications. This has become a major market for the use of recycled materials across the board.

Why did you start Denton Plastics 35 years ago? Denton Plastics was founded 35 years ago because I saw a win-win situation. The need to recycle more plastic was becoming more obvious. I was able to help the environment, create a small business and establish a beachhead to show it can be done economically. Our company’s strategy was to make a drop-in replacement for virgin to help reduce costs for our customers.

Talk about Denton Plastics’ work in serving as a cradle-to-cradle production model and as a one-stop shop for plastics recycling. Being in the great Northwest, Denton Plastics needed additional volume to have enough feedstock to build a manufacturing plant. The result was a need to expand to most types of plastics in order to have enough volume. As a result, we became the go-to place to teach companies and the general public what was recyclable in our area. Our company also distributes virgin as well as recycled plastics. Most of our customers we sell virgin to we also recycle their scrap plastic and advise them on the type of material that is the easiest to recycle.

Denton Plastics has proved itself as an innovator – what are some examples? Before curbside recycling, Denton Plastics put several programs in place, [including] local recycling contests at grade and middle schools. We had a drop-off location at our manufacturing facility where people came from all over the state to drop recycled plastic. We helped grocery chains have recycling events. Our most recent success has been teaching all the local hospitals how to recycle their plastic by buying their scrap materials to help them offset their costs.

What misperceptions about plastics recycling do you wish you could debunk? No. 1 would be most plastics are not recyclable. All plastics are recyclable but at what cost? A great example would be polystyrene foam, which is a highly recyclable product that continues to get maligned in the market.

What’s the biggest (professional) mistake you have made? I can’t point to any one major mistake. We just overcome the hurdles as they come, and it’s been a long learning experience because it’s a new industry with no roadmap prior to 1980.

Who has served as your role model or mentor? One of my role models and mentors was someone who was not in the industry but was an engineer and very good friend, H.H. Burkitt. I first new H.H. in the wood products business and when I left that industry in 1979 we remained friends and business confidants until his passing three years ago.