The plastics industry did a great job of convincing everyone that their product was easily recyclable, but China finally put an end to that pleasant fiction in 2017.
A 2017 memo sent by China to the World Trade Organization sent the global recycling industry into a tailspin. In the 1970s, the plastic industry helped get municipalities past "plastic hesitancy" by successfully marketing their product as recyclable, therefore guilt-free. While that is true in theory, much of the plastic waste, especially what is known as "medium-value" plastics, are more profitable to make from scratch than from reclaimed material. Follow the money.
Because China ships more materials to the US than vice versa, it was inexpensive to fill empty cargo ships returning to China with American single-use plastics. But the economics shifted eventually, making it not profitable to ship American medium-value plastic to China. After China's 2017 memo, shipments of waste plastic covered in the memo dropped by over 99%.
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