Plastic Wars

Plastic Wars


FRONTLINE and NPR team up to examine a mounting crisis: plastic waste in the environment. Despite efforts spreading across the country to reduce the use of plastic, the plastics industry is rapidly scaling up new production and promoting a familiar solution: recycling. But it’s estimated that no more than 10 percent of plastic produced has ever been recycled. Plastic Wars, a joint investigation from FRONTLINE and NPR, reveals how plastic makers for decades have publicly promoted recycling, despite from almost the beginning privately expressing doubts that widespread plastic recycling would ever be economically viable.

Top industry executives speak publicly for the first time, detailing the plastics industry’s strategy to promote recycling in the 1980s and 1990s. Along with a trove of internal documents uncovered by producer Rick Young, correspondent Laura Sullivan and their team, these insider accounts shed new light on the industry’s efforts to overcome growing concern about plastic waste by pushing recycling.

Plastic Wars explores how, in the ‘90s and 2000s, much of the waste generated was shipped overseas to be recycled in China. But in 2018, responding to its own pollution problems, China closed its doors to imports of plastic waste. With the China market closed, the FRONTLINE team travels to Indonesia to see where some of that plastic waste from the U.S. is ending up now—finding that some plastics that are supposed to be recycled are instead being dumped in Indonesian communities already struggling to clean up their own waste. This is a powerful look at one of the major environmental challenges of our time.  

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