By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
Turkey on Tuesday moved to ban most plastic waste imports.
The move follows BBC and Greenpeace investigation that showed British recycling dumped or left to be burnt in Adana, in southern Turkey.
The ban will cover to ethylene polymer plastics and will take effect in 45 days, according to the Associated Press. Plastic drinks bottles, which are made of polypropylene, are not included.
According to the Guardian:
Greenpeace visited 10 sites in the southern city of Adana in March. Investigators found waste including British supermarket packaging in waterways, on beaches and in illegal waste mountains.
Under both UK and EU rules, plastic waste should only be exported if it is destined to be recycled or incinerated in a energy from waste facility.
The AP elaborated on the Turkish government’s actions:
The environment minister, Murat Kurum, said 152 waste facilities were audited in southern Adana province after “undesirable images were revealed.” Twenty-nine of them shut down, 32 were fined and criminal complaints filed against businesses that were causing pollution. He said Wednesday monitoring would continue in all recycling processes.
Kurum added Turkey didn’t import garbage and added that the import of mixed plastic waste was outlawed in 2021. Companies importing recyclable plastics to process into raw materials for use in Turkey are required to hold an identification code that allows for monitoring.
Component-p-0-2-76″>“Our goal is a national industry that can get a 100% of its raw materials from the domestic market and end imports of waste from the world and a very clean Turkey,” he said.
Yet the Turkish policy alone will not solve the plastics problem. Much more can – and must- be done to reduce creation of plastic waste. The UK produces more plastics waste per capita than any other country except the United States. As per the Guardian:
Sam Chetan-Welsh, political campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “People have been appalled to see images of UK household waste dumped and burned in Turkey. The UK government must put a stop to our plastic waste impacting other countries. We need a complete ban on all plastic waste exports and legislation to make UK companies reduce the amount of plastic they produce in the first place.”
The Greenpeace report on its investigation. TRASHED: HOW THE UK IS STILL DUMPING PLASTIC WASTE ON THE REST OF THE WORLD,cludes details how the UK still relies unduly on the ineffective recycling fairy as the primary solution to its plastics crisis.
The sheer volume of plastic waste generated each year vastly exceeds the UK’s capacity to recycle it. The British Plastics Federation (BPF) estimates that 46% of the UK’s plastic waste is incinerated, 19% is exported and 17% goes to landfill. Yet the government and companies continue to emphasise recycling as the way to deal with plastic waste.
The situation is particularly serious when it comes to household plastic packaging. Local authorities collect an estimated 2.3 to 2.4 million tonnes of plastic packaging every year, largely from households. Yet analysis by RECOUP, an industry body established to promote recycling, indicates that the UK recycles just 230,000 tonnes of household plastic packaging waste each year.24 This suggests that less than 10% of household plastic packaging is actually recycled in the UK. [p. 7, citations omitted]
Continuing Fallout from China’s 2018 Ban
China banned imports of plastic waste in 2018, upending the world plastics recycling market. Other countries initially responded by taking in some of these imports, but were soon overwhelmed, and have since imposed their ownmbans. Some have gone so far as to return shipments of plastic waste to the country from which they were exported..
UK waste exporters responded to these bans by diverting UK waste to Turkey. According to the Greenpeace report:
In just five years, Turkey has gone from being a minor player in the global waste trade to effectively becoming the new China. Exports of plastic waste from the UK to Turkey increased by a factor of 18 between 2016 and 2020, from just 12,000 tonnes in 2016 to 210,000 tonnes in 2020,42 when Turkey received almost 40% of the UK’s plastic waste exports. Nearly half of this was mixed plastic, which is extremely difficult to recycle.
Although the UK is by far the largest exporter of plastic waste to Turkey,43 it has not been the only country to take advantage of Turkey’s open attitude to plastic waste. EU member states exported 20 times more plastic waste to Turkey in 2020 than they did in 2016, with the volume increasing from 22,000 tonnes to 447,000 tonnes.[p.12, citations omitted.]
Other countries, including Germany, also export considerable plastic waste to Turkey. According to the AP:
“Around 241 truckloads of plastic waste come to Turkey every day from across Europe and it overwhelms us. As far as we can see from the data and the field, we continue to be Europe’s largest plastic waste dump,” said Nihan Temiz Atas, the biodiversity projects head of Greenpeace Mediterranean.
There has been some domestic pushback against the ban, according to the AP:
The Turkish Plastics Industrialists’ Association criticized the ban, saying the ministry had not consulted with industry representatives.
“The ban puts our country’s plastics sector into a deadlock,” the group’s President Selcuk Gulsun said, calling for the measure to be withdrawn.
The Bottom Line
Turkey’s plastic imports ban will prevent it from being the dumping ground for rubbish exports from the rUK and the est of Europe. Whether these countries will now move to a comprehensive solution and enact policies to reduce the amount of plastics they use and produce remains to be seen.