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Greenpeace report highlights extent of European nations’ dumping of waste in Turkey

A burning pile of waste in Adana, Turkey. Photo from the Greenpeace report.

Published on May 17, Greenpeace's latest report, “Trashed: How the UK is still dumping plastic waste on the rest of the world,” has revealed that the UK exports most of its waste to Turkey. The report documents how trash from Britain was found in ten dumping sites around Adana, a city on Turkey's southern coast. 

The second part of the report focuses exclusively on Turkey, noting that “exports of plastic waste from the UK to Turkey increased by a factor of 18 in 4 years, from 12,000 tonnes in 2016 to 210,000 tonnes in 2020.” Almost 40 per cent of the UK's waste ends up in Turkey.

Some the waste found in Turkey is of quite recent vintage. Used COVID-19 antigen test kits have been found in Turkish dumps, in addition to packaging from UK brands such as Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer. But the UK is not the only European country exporting garbage to Turkey: the EU itself sends 241 truckloads of plastic to Turkey every day

Turkey's infrastructure, however, is woefully inadequate when it comes to waste recycling; among OECD members it has the lowest recycling rate, at 12 per cent. 

Nihan Temiz Ataş, biodiversity project lead for Greenpeace Mediterranean told the UK's Evening Standard that “plastic waste coming from the UK to Turkey is an environmental threat, not an economic opportunity.” According to Ataş, “uncontrolled imports of plastic waste do nothing but increase the problems existing in Turkey’s own recycling system.”

In Turkey, environment-friendly practices such as controlled landfills and composting is not the norm; leaving trash out in the open or burning it is far more common. The open waste dumps create environmental pollution and harbor stored gases which may cause explosions. INTERPOL deems waste fires and uncontrolled landfills illegal and a danger to humans. 

Another country mentioned in the report is Germany. According to Greenpeace's findings, the European nation has exported 136,000 tonnes of plastic waste to Turkey and is also guilty of sending 16 per cent of its plastic waste overseas even after claiming it had been recycled. Manfred Santen, a chemist at Greenpeace Germany has said that:

It is appalling to see our plastic in burning piles on the side of Turkish roads. We must stop dumping our plastic waste on other countries. The heart of the problem is overproduction. Governments need to take control of their own plastic problems. They should ban plastic waste exports and reduce single-use plastic. German trash has to be treated in Germany. Recent news talk about 140 containers full of plastic waste from German households sitting in Turkish ports. Our government has to take them back immediately.

Following the release of the report, Turkey removed polythene plastic, used in shopping bags, shampoo bottles, and numerous other kinds of packaging, from the list of imported polymers. Polythene was found in the recent 198,000 tonnes of garbage from the UK. 

The decision, which was announced by Turkey’s trade ministry, will take effect on July 3, 2021. To ensure its enforcement, Environment and Urbanisation Minister Murat Kurum said that “customs would conduct constant checks to enforce the ban, which follows a block on mixed plastic imports.” 

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