Many plastics can be recycled. Eliminate or reduce the ones that can’t.

Last week, LaMar Detert walked me through Discover Plastics, his 48-year-old plastic recycling company in Rogers, Minn. I was there because I wanted to double-check that it exists.

A few days earlier the Atlantic had run a viral article titled “Plastic Recycling Doesn’t Work and Will Never Work.” It wasn’t the first to make that claim, either. Over the last half-decade, as concerns over ocean plastic pollution have gone mainstream, plastic recycling has become an object of ire, labeled everything from a “myth” to an outright “lie.”

Detert assured me that his company “definitely exists,” and that its business model is neither a myth nor a lie. It’s true: Discover Plastics is housed in a 50,000-square-foot warehouse, where it handled roughly 30 million pounds of plastics in 2021.

It’s not alone, either. According to data provided by the Association of Plastic Recyclers, the United States is home to at least 180 reprocessors, as they’re known, who recycle billions of pounds of material every year. Thanks to growing demand by consumers, companies and governments for solutions to plastic pollution, their volumes and positive environmental impact are poised to grow substantially over the next decade.

Plastic recycling has existed ever since plastic’s inventors realized that — under the right circumstances — it could be remelted and reformed. As industrial use of plastics took off in the 1950s, so too did businesses devoted to using unwanted plastics generated during the recycling process.

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