Single use plastic production was booming by the 70s and 80s, but a growing environmental movement increased concerns about where these single use items were ending up at the end of their lives.

The nation’s first plastic bag ban in Suffolk County, NY set off panic in the plastics industry. Industry leaders knew that widespread plastics recycling was ineffective and logistically impossible, but it gave them a way to quell the guilt of consumers and squash potential plastic bans. Widespread marketing campaigns and dogged legal teams fabricated the myth of recycling through the late 80s and 90s.

We speak to Assemblyman Steve Englebright, who sponsored the bag ban in 1988, about the decades long fight to ban plastic bags in Suffolk County and the tactics used by the plastic industry to thwart these bans. Plus, Kara Napolitano from SIMS Municipal Recycling Facility in Brooklyn offers us a new way to think about plastics recycling.

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Bonus content: Kara Napolitano, education and outreach coordinator for Sims Municipal Recycling, talks us through the journey our waste takes from the time it arrives at SIMS, to the time it's baled.

Click here for a full transcript of the episode.

Trace Material is a project of Parsons Healthy Materials Lab at The New School. It is hosted and produced by Ava Robinson and Burgess Brown. Our project director is Alison Mears, and our research assistant is Olivia Hamilton. Trace Material was made possible by funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Our theme music is Rainbow Road by Cardioid. Additional music from Blue Dot Sessions.


New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright
Kara Napolitano, Education and Outreach Coordinator at SIMS Municipal Recycling Facility


Our research for this episode was informed by Plastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel.

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