Plastics Hall of Fame wants to be more global

The HOF started in the United States and its former president, Jay Gardiner, had been instrumental in guiding it into until he died. After that, interested members of the group gathered to redefine it, Steinwall said.

“I have the honor to serve as the president, probably because I had just retired and had the availability to take on the challenge,” she said.

Steinwall is co-owner of injection molder Steinwall Inc. in Coon Rapids, Minn., and in 2015 was inducted into the hall.

The organization had previously relied on the Plastics Industry Association in Washington, a trade group that supports the US industry, for administrative help.

But Steinwall said with its drive to be more global, its leaders felt they should have a more independent structure. It recently incorporated and updated its website.

“A big thanks goes to [the plastics association]who supported the hall for several decades,” Steinwall said. “But given our international emphasis, we felt the need to create a stand-alone corporation that all industry organizations and associations will support to get a truly international focus.”

Steinwall said the 50-year-old organization had its first international inductee in 1976, Herman Mark from Austria.

Current HOF members vote on the next class, with judging guidelines focused on accomplishments, industry contributions and character.

The hall’s new leaders are also changing the induction ceremony. Previously, one ceremony had honored living inductees and a separate event honored those admitted posthumously.

Now, they’ll be combined and a single ceremony will honor both groups every 18 months — with one at the K show and a second at NPE.

The group has also tried to add more volunteers, with 23 active, on three committees: nominating, events and communications. It has no paid staff.

“The big difference between our current structure and the past structure is the number of volunteers,” she said. “The quantity of volunteers is a tremendous sign of support for the mission.”

Steinwall also said she wants to the hall to tell the industry’s story and examples of the role of plastics in society.

“I am interested in documenting the industry’s history as simple stories that people can often quote,” she said, citing no longer using ivory to make billiard balls, or transporting electricity safely with fire-resistant cables, or packaging food to preserve it and reduce waste.

“Plastics provided solutions to many challenges,” she said. “Simple stories will help frame current events, helping to keep the industry proud and optimistic. That’s my goal.”

She also said she hopes the hall can bring in more female members.

Right now, the gender diversity is worse than the geographic diversity. Only four women are among the hall’s 218 members.

“I’ll have you return to our discussion about attracting international attention. I would not find it appropriate to set a goal to induct 50 percent women, but rather have us induct only the best,” she said.

“The trick is to get the word out so that we attract only the best into the nomination process,” she said. “I have personally recruited several women to submit their nomination forms, and we are now up to four women.”

She said she wants to encourage more nominations and wants people “to stop saying you don’t feel accomplished enough to be in the hall.”

“We have all industry roles inducted: sales, production, CEOs, scientists, product designers, engineers, and association leaders, to name a few,” Steinwall said. “Sure — there are five Nobel prize winners in chemistry — but there are also entrepreneurs who made a difference. If someone wants to nominate you, that is an honor, and you are enough just as you are.”

The group is currently accepting nominations for the 2024 class.

She also said she’s heard from people who had a negative reaction to not getting in on the first ballot, but she said the group gets many more nominations than it has spots.

Once someone is nominated, their application stays in the pool, with a request that it be updated every three to five years.

“Someone rarely makes it in the first round,” Steinwall said. “We got over 100 nominations for about 15 spots. We want to keep the number of inductees small so that the ceremony can focus a spotlight on everyone in a very special way.”

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