Waste Watch: Turkey Bans Plastic Waste Imports

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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Fazal Majid

    I am constantly amazed by the narcissism of US-based publications that blame China for the situation. Let’s put the blame squarely where it belongs, on the plastic waste-producing nations, and the scam that is plastic recycling.

    The best way forward is to move towards paper/cardboard based containers and aluminum, as recycling the latter is profitable and will thus actually happen, unlike the recycling theater for other materials. Something like 75% of all the aluminum ever produced is still in use thanks to recycling. The EU is showing the way forward by banning single-use plastic, even if there are too many loopholes.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Yup, its all supplyside. Its not just about the quantity of material – the failure to impose regulations on the industry to only permit plastics that can be sorted and recycled easily is a major cause of the problem. The biggest technical problem by far in plastics recycling is that there are far too many different materials and chemicals in a typical load of sorted plastics waste to make reprocessing easier. This makes creating a high quality post-consumer product very difficult, if not impossible.

      There was some progress being made back in the 1990’s on this, but unfortunately Chinas appetite for large quantities of low grade materials cut the reprocessing industry off at its knees. China opened the door to the importation of the material, but it was the west that chose to use the door (the other big problem is incineration, which has provided another route for poorly sorted waste). As a result, at least 20 years has been lost in putting in place the infrastructure for minimising and recycling the material.

      1. XXYY

        My understanding is that even “high quality” recycled plastic (made from uniform source material) is not terribly desirable compared to “virgin” plastic. It still contains contaminants and performs unpredictably during fabrication.

        Since “virgin” plastic is so cheap anyway, the potential cost differential in “virgin” vs. recycled plastic may not be worth the headaches.

        One way forward is “downcycling” plastic into products (such as a binder in paving stones, etc.) that don’t traditionally use virgin plastic, but take the recycled plastic out of the waste stream. This is just kicking the can down the road, of course, since these alternative products will also become waste in their own time.

        The real solution is to make and use a lot less plastic, of course.

    2. cocomaan

      This is what I thought of straightaway too. UK only exports to Turkey because it’s convenient, the way the USA exports to China because it’s convenient.

      Think of all the jobs it would create if we had to deal with our waste ourselves!

      Interesting tidbit: someone told me that in Lancaster County PA, Amish country, the highest point in the county is now the summit of a landfill. We are making mountains.

  2. Arizona Slim

    A few weeks ago, I ordered several pairs of wool socks from an-out-of-state company. They arrived in a bag that was made from corn. The bag was billed as being compostable, so I cut it up and put it in the compost bin.

    Not much sign of breakdown — yet. However, I can say that for quite a few of the items in my compost bin.

    1. James Simpson

      Yet sheep are not a sustainable means to produce clothing (or food) either. They denude the fields in which they are kept of everything edible. Just take a look at any herd. Cotton uses vast amounts of water to grow. There are no simple solutions to the plastics problem.

      1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

        That’s true for modern cotton varieties: they’re water hogs. The Khamir NGO is promoting revival of kala cotton varieties in Kachchh, in Gujarat, in India. These traditional varieties don’t require chemical fertilizers nor pesticides, and they are rain-fed – even in Kachchh, which is a desert environment.


        The kala cotton initiative at the moment is at the scale of a demonstration project. But more such initiatives should be scaled up to provide alternatives to plastic.

    1. Synoia

      South Africa banned many plastic bag types years ago I believe.

      Let’s go back Back to the 70’s when there was little or No plastic waste, or the 60’s when there was none. Life did not end because there was no plastic.

      The wealthy should do their share:

      I propose we turn all golf courses into plastic sorting dumps. I suspect that might trigger some speedy response.

      Then all sail boats over 20′ and power boats over 10′ must mount plastic scoops on the bow and pick up plastic from the ocean. To be sorted at the above golf courses.

  3. KFritz

    It seems as if there may be a (partial) technological solution to plastic recycling, using superheated steam to separate almost any form of plastic to basic completely recyclable/reusable components. Since I haven’t worked out how to use the linking tool with my computer, I’ll leave the exact titles of the articles to paste into a browser. A clear caveat for this process is its energy intensiveness. It also does nothing to address nanoplastics.

    This new recycling plant uses steam to recycle ‘unrecyclable’ plastic

    Sir David Attenborough Backs This New Tech That Can Recycle All Plastics

Comments are closed.