Plastic Wars

Did the plastics industry use the lure of recycling to sell even more plastic? A look at the mounting crisis of plastic waste in the environment.

Did the plastics industry use the lure of recycling to sell even more plastic? With the industry expanding and the crisis of ocean pollution growing, Plastic Wars investigates the fight over the future of plastics.

Plastic Wars examines the mounting crisis of plastic waste in the environment. Despite efforts to reduce the use of plastic, the plastics industry is rapidly scaling up new production and promoting a familiar solution: recycling. But some estimates say that no more than 10 percent of plastic produced has ever been recycled. The documentary reveals how plastic makers have publicly promoted recycling for decades, despite privately expressing doubts from almost the beginning 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 in the film, these insider accounts shed new light on the industry’s efforts to overcome growing concern about plastic waste by pushing recycling. By marketing plastics as recyclable, and so a “green” product, the industry was able to continue selling and producing more plastics, rather than cutting back on how much was produced in the first place.

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 documentary team travels to Indonesia to see where some of the 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.

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