NPR's Planet Money has a harrowing new story about the plastic recycling industry — specifically, that the entire thing is built on a lie that the oil industry perpetuated for decades, despite knowing that the majority of plastic would never actually get recycled.
The industry's awareness that recycling wouldn't keep plastic out of landfills and the environment dates to the program's earliest days, [NPR] found. "There is serious doubt that [recycling plastic] can ever be made viable on an economic basis," one industry insider wrote in a 1974 speech.
Yet the industry spent millions telling people to recycle, because, as one former top industry insider told NPR, selling recycling sold plastic, even if it wasn't true.
Here's the basic problem: All used plastic can be turned into new things, but picking it up, sorting it out and melting it down is expensive. Plastic also degrades each time it is reused, meaning it can't be reused more than once or twice.
On the other hand, new plastic is cheap. It's made from oil and gas, and it's almost always less expensive and of better quality to just start fresh.
As it turns out, less than 10% of plastic has ever been recycled. Ever.
Here's the full story, in case you weren't depressed enough this week:
How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled [Laura Sullivan / NPR]
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