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Faye Flam

The Recycling Game Is Rigged Against You

Even if you put everything into the right blue bins, a lot of plastics will end up in landfills and the ocean. Consumers can't solve this problem.

Single-stream recycling was such a nice idea.

Single-stream recycling was such a nice idea.

Photographer: Ramin Talaie/Corbis, via Getty Images

Americans were not set up for success in recycling plastics. Even before China stopped accepting plastic refuse from abroad, 91 percent of potentially recyclable plastic in the U.S. ended up in landfills – or worse, in the oceans. Europe does a little better, with only 70 percent getting tossed.

Why such terrible rates? Partly because some changes that were supposed to make recycling simpler ended up making it almost impossible.