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The Plastic Pandemic

COVID-19 trashed the recycling dream

COVID-19 has hit plastic recycling, just as big oil firms are investing hundreds of billions of dollars to make new plastic. These investments massively exceed the industry’s spending to tackle plastic waste.

The coronavirus pandemic has sparked a rush for plastic.

From Wuhan to New York, demand for face shields, gloves, takeaway food containers and bubble wrap for online shopping has surged. Since most of that cannot be recycled, so has the waste. 

But there is another consequence. The pandemic has intensified a price war between recycled and new plastic, made by the oil industry. It’s a war recyclers worldwide are losing, price data and interviews with more than two dozen businesses across five continents show. 

“I really see a lot of people struggling,” Steve Wong, CEO of Hong-Kong based Fukutomi Recycling and chairman of the China Scrap Plastics Association told Reuters in an interview. “They don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”