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Is plastics recycling a lie? That’s the question at the heart of a new investigation into whether Americans have been filling up their blue bins with misplaced hope.

The evidence on the side of recycling doesn’t look good. As far back as 1974, industry insiders were doubting whether plastics could ever be recycled economically. More recently, China’s decision to severely restrict its import of recyclables has left much of the world looking for new places to send used plastics — and falling short. Most damaging of all, waste plastics aren’t valuable, and “never have been,” according to authors of the investigation (a joint undertaking by National Public Radio and PBS’s “Frontline”).

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