Reminder: By and large plastic is not recyclable, or at least not recycled. We have technology for reprocessing some plastic. Clean PET, that is pop bottles, thoroughly washed, with the lids and labels removed can be reprocessed into fibres that can be used to make fleece or shoddy tarp fabric or plastic wood. But that process is not ‘recycling.’ It does not cycle.
Some clean second generation materials can be reprocessed again into increasingly lower grade materials but inevitably such plastic is headed for the garbage, or the environment. In fact, reprocessing is an important stage in reducing whole plastic items to microplastics as the material is extruded as fibres.
But all of this is moot, since we never built the local facilities to reprocess plastic and instead rely on shipping our plastic garbage to vulnerable developing nations that also do not have the proper facilities to deal with our waste. Slave-wage workers there pick through literal mountains of wind-blown plastic to find economically salvageable bits. And because this is marginally more lucrative than subsistence farming, the local agricultural economy is undermined.
What garbage pickers can’t sell to reprocessing they sell as raw fuel to be burned uncleanly in local industries. Just burned in furnaces. No emission controls.
What should be happening to our plastic is that it should be incinerated locally in waste-to-energy facilities with state of the art emission control. But to do that we would have to build the infrastructure. And to build the infrastructure we would have to admit we have been talking bullshit about plastic recycling for decades.