As oil prices fluctuate, so too does the price of plastic. When those markets are depressed, virgin plastic becomes far cheaper to buy than recycled plastic. Additionally, many plastic products egrade each time they’re processed — unlike metal or glass, which can be perpetually recycled— making them progressively less valuable.
Without a profitable market in which to sell it, it’s not cost-effective for many recycling companies to process plastic, so many sell it to other countries at a loss. In 2011, plastic trash was America’s primary export to China. In 2018, China stopped all imports of waste from foreign countries and is now on track to beat U.S. sustainability goals by the end of this year.
In countries like India, waste pickers sort through the trash to find the pieces that are most valuable — thicker plastics and metals. The remainder becomes landfilled or incinerated, creating a health crisis for communities while local waterways act like conveyor belts, sending unwanted plastic straight out