Turkey is banning the import of most plastic waste after an investigation revealed British recycling was left to burn or be dumped on beaches and roadsides.
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.
Britain exports more plastic waste to Turkey than any other country since China banned imports in 2018. UK exports to the country increased from 12,000 tonnes in 2016 to 209,642 tonnes in 2020, about 30% of the UK’s plastic waste exports.
But Turkey has a recycling rate of just 12%, and investigators found plastic packaging from Tesco, Asda, Co-op, Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Marks & Spencer dumped, left in bags or burned. Plastic from retailers such as B&Q, Debenhams, Poundland and Spar was also found.
UK plastics sent for recycling in Turkey dumped and burned, Greenpeace finds
Other European countries have also chosen Turkey as the main receiver of their rubbish. About 241 lorry-loads of plastic waste come to Turkey every day from across Europe, 20 times more than was imported in 2016.
UK and EU rules say that plastic waste should not be exported to countries unless it is going to be recycled.
On Tuesday night the Turkish government said it would ban imports of most types of plastic waste. A notice from the country’s trade minister removed some polymers from the waste products they would allow into the country.
Greenpeace said the ban involved polyethylene (PE) plastic used in 94% of the UK waste exported to Turkey. It includes yoghurt pots, salad bags and plastic film. The UK exported nearly 198,000 tonnes of polyethylene to Turkey in 2020.
Detailing the terms, Greenpeace said the restriction applied to high-density polyethylene (HDPE), “for example thick plastic milk bottles, shampoo bottles, detergent bottles”, and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) which includes, along with films, the likes of soft plastic bags.
However, standard plastic drinks bottles are among items excluded from the ban. According to Greenpeace, Turkey will still import water bottles and fizzy-drinks bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), along with bottle caps – and some food pots and tubs – made of polypropylene (PP).
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.”