The Recycling is Real Origin Story 

In September of 2022, Matt Seaholm, President and CEO of PLASTICS, was on a Minneapolis highway when he passed a billboard proclaiming, “Plastic recycling is a myth.”

“Statements like that are a symptom of a deep-seated untruth that has taken hold in society,” Matt said, “one that undermines public confidence and consumer participation in a recycling system that works and could work so much better if we, as a nation, give it the attention it deserves.”

One particularly sobering thought to come out of that experience was the possibility of legislators and policymakers driving past such poorly informed billboards and absorbing a skewed message, on top of the steady stream of misinformation anti-plastics activists already send their way.


A“It occurred to me that we need to do more than simply tell people about recycling,” Matt said. “We need to show recycling in action. Once you’ve actually seen something with your own eyes, you can’t call it a myth.”

Since it isn’t feasible to bring every federal, state and municipal official on an individual facility tour, the Recycling is Real initiative was conceived to use video as the means for bringing them inside the places where recycling happens, showing them how it happens, and introducing them to the people who make it happen.

Garnering support

When Matt presented Recycling is Real to PLASTICS’ leadership, the idea received an enthusiastic and positive reception. The first company to step up with financial support to make it happen was Placon Corporation of Madison, Wisconsin.

Dan Mohs, Chairman and CEO of Placon and an officer of the PLASTICS Board of Directors, has been advocating for years for a more active and vocal role in responding to anti-plastic sentiment.

“Our industry needs to come together and defend—tell our story,” he said. “Public perception is important.”

Given his longstanding passion for advocacy, Recycling is Real caught Mohs’ attention quickly.

“The campaign as Matt described it was very proactive and he had a clear vision for what he wanted to do,” he said. “It was targeted, something we could execute against. And I wanted to demonstrate, as an officer of the Association, that I wasn’t just going to talk about it. I was going to put some support behind it.”

From concept to accomplishment

Mohs also agreed to have his company among the first companies to be featured in a video. Placon is a longtime player in the recycling space, with its own 70,000 square-foot manufacturing and recycling facility.

Seeing the hopes behind his investment play out on-screen was a gratifying moment for Mohs. “I’m really proud of the people who were bold enough to stand up and talk about it, “the different people who are working on recycling every single day,” he said. “I thought it was really authentic and I was happy, really happy with it.

Tad McGwire, president of Industrial Heater Corp and immediate past chair of the PLASTICS board, used the term “unsung heroes” when describing the people featured in Recycling is Real videos. “I’m not saying recycling is at the level of our first responders, but there are a lot of people in this country who get up and do their jobs and have an impact that just don’t get noticed,” he said.

“Given that we have a solid waste problem in this country, all those people who are out there, daily, doing something positive with solid waste like recycling are working toward a better future for our country.”

A narrative rooted in truth

In formulating the Recycling is Real messaging and approach, Seaholm worked closely with PLASTICS’ VP of Communications, Stephanie Strategos Polis who, since coming to the plastics industry in 2022, has found herself amazed by the passion of the people she has met, especially out in the field, while working on videos.

“The public gets a distorted, false view of plastic recycling,” Stephanie said, “one that uses misinformation and even complete fabrication to play on people’s emotions.”

Having met many people throughout the plastics supply chain, it became clear to Stephanie that the true connective story surrounding recycling lay with the people who proudly serve their communities and the world at large by making recycling happen. “People who call recycling a myth are doing a great disservice to diligent, dedicated workers all over the country who work hard to keep plastics in the economy and out of landfills,” Stephanie said. “The people you meet in a Recycling is Real video are true believers in recycling because they see it happening, every day. They make it happen, every day.” She added, “With the videos we’ve already released and those to come we will have negated the ‘myth’ narrative many times over.”

That kind of enthusiasm and purpose is exactly what excited Dan Mohs of Placon about Recycling is Real at the outset. He hopes it is just the first of many opportunities to shine some light on the positive realities of the plastics industry. “Plastics materials have been successful for sustainable reasons since day one,” he said. “Less material, less energy, less storage space, lower cost. We’ve been winning on these parameters for decades. I just think the time is now to take a more active role as an industry and not trust that other people tell our story for us. We need to do it for them.”

Asked what his elevator pitch might be to a fellow CEO who’s on the fence about investing in Recycling Real, Mohs said, “Think of this as a small expense in the future of your industry, our industry, and in jobs. Because I assure you, if we don’t tell our story, it will affect our long-term growth opportunities.”