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Episode 613: Trash!

Note: Today's episode originally aired in2015.

One day it's profitable to recycle a bottle. The next day, some number in the global economy changes and that bottle suddenly becomes trash. A drop in oil prices, for example, can make it way harder to recycle plastic.

The line between trash and recycling has moved around a lot over the last few years. When we first aired today's episode back in 2015, U.S. recycling businesses sold a lot of their paper and plastic to China. Then, in early 2018, the Chinese government essentially banned foreign recyclables. So recyclers are having to look for other buyers.

Today on the show: The small businesses and big economic shifts that determine what happens to the stuff inside your blue recycling bin.

Music: "Steamy Streets."

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Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.
David Kestenbaum is a correspondent for NPR, covering science, energy issues and, most recently, the global economy for NPR's multimedia project Planet Money. David has been a science correspondent for NPR since 1999. He came to journalism the usual way — by getting a Ph.D. in physics first.