Turkey bans plastic waste imports after UK packaging found illegally dumped

·3 min read
Plastic packaging from UK and global brands were found strewn across land at 10 sites (© Caner Ozkan / Greenpeace)
Plastic packaging from UK and global brands were found strewn across land at 10 sites (© Caner Ozkan / Greenpeace)

Turkey is to ban imports of plastic waste, days after Greenpeace revealed UK household plastics had been dumped illegally by the roadside and in fields in the country.

Trade chiefs in Ankara have added ethylene polymer plastics – including shampoos and detergent bottles and plastic film and bags – to its list of waste materials whose importation is illegal.

Environmental lobbyists warned that, as a result, the UK might increase shipments of waste plastic to other countries.

Earlier this week, Greenpeace investigators documented piles of plastic waste that were dumped in the open had spilled into waterways and floated downstream at 10 sites in the south of Turkey.

Plastic from the UK was found at all the sites, with evidence of packaging and plastic bags from British supermarkets and retailers.

Scientists think plastic may take 1,000 years to break down in the environment, and it chokes wildlife as it does so.

Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year, and birds and whales have starved because their stomachs were full of plastic bags.

In addition, toxic substances are released into the soil when plastic bags perish in sunlight.

Greenpeace Mediterranean said 74 per cent of the plastic waste imported by Turkey last year will now be on the banned list, which will take effect in six weeks’ time.

Sam Chetan-Welsh, political campaigner at Greenpeace UK, welcomed Turkey’s ban. He said: “People have been appalled to see images of UK household waste dumped and burned in Turkey, and to learn that the plastic they carefully sort for recycling is being shipped off for other countries to deal with.”

But he warned there may be an increase of shipments to other countries such as Malaysia, Poland and the Netherlands, and called for a complete ban on UK exports of plastic waste and a requirement for companies to reduce the amount they create in the first place.

Sian Sutherland, co-founder of campaign group A Plastic Planet, said: “Turkey are the latest to join a growing list of countries that will no longer accept our waste.

“It’s vital the government learns we cannot continue to offshore our responsibility in dealing with our plastic problem.”

UK legislation prohibits the shipment of waste outside Europe if it is intended for disposal, rather than recycling.

The government has pledged to ban the export of polluting plastic waste to developing countries and introduce tougher controls on waste exports.

The Turkish Plastics Industrialists’ Association criticised the ban, saying the ministry had not consulted industry representatives and calling for the measure to be withdrawn.

Nihan Temiz Atas, from Greenpeace Mediterranean, said Turkey was “Europe’s largest plastic waste dump”, receiving around 240 lorry loads every day. “The plastic trash overwhelms our struggling recycling system, gets into the environment and is burnt, creating harmful smoke,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We are clear that the UK should handle more of its waste at home, and that’s why we are committed to banning the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries and clamping down on illegal waste exports, including to countries such as Turkey, through tougher controls.”

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