Plastic that travels 8,000 miles: the global crisis in recycling

With the world drowning in plastic, the need for recycling is more acute than ever. But the industry that handles all that waste is on the verge of collapse.

This article is part of a Fortune Special Report: Business Faces the Climate Crisis. It was published in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photography by Sebastian Meyer.

Cut into a hillside in northern Malaysia, amid oil palms and rubber trees, stands a large, open-air warehouse. This is the BioGreen Frontier recycling factory, which opened last November in the village of Bukit Selambau. On a searing-hot afternoon in January, Shahid Ali was working his very first week on the job. With his feet square in front of a chute on the production line, he stood knee-deep in soggy, white bits of plastic. Around him, more bits floated off the conveyor belt and fluttered to the ground like snowflakes.