Thousands of tons of UK plastic are being illegally dumped and burned in Turkey, sparking environmental and health fears for those living nearby, according to an exclusive report in the Daily Mirror on Wednesday.
“I discovered the scale of our environmental shame in Adana, where dozens of items of British packaging were found among the debris of a rubbish tip,” wrote Daily Mirror Environment Editor Nada Farhoud.
They included bags and wrappers sold by Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Morrisons, Next, Pets at Home, Sainsbury’s, Saxons and Tesco. Many displayed pound signs, while others had the Union flag symbol.
Farhoud wrote nearly half of UK plastics are sent to Turkey but that Turkey lacks the infrastructure to process it all, leading to an explosion in criminal gangs dumping and burning the imported waste.
Across five sites, numerous other plastic products from British supermarkets were lying in heaps beside roads. Other waste had spilled into rivers and floated downstream, while some had been set alight.
Çukurova University plastic waste expert Professor Sedat Gündoğdu said Brits who diligently dispose of their plastics should know much of it “is not going to be recycled.”
He added: “One of the farmers living near an illegal dumping ground summed up the situation perfectly. He said, ‘We are sending vitamins to the western countries and they are sending poison to us.’ Why do we bring in other countries’ waste when we can’t collect and recycle our own?”
Sian Sunderland, founder of A Plastic Planet, said, “The UK, among many wealthy countries, sells deceitful promises of plastic recycling, when in reality it is a case of out of sight, out of mind.
“It leaves poorer countries with unmanageable mountains of plastic that can stick around for over 500 years with its poisonous chemicals causing a million people to die annually.”
According to the report, Turkey became the main destination after China stopped accepting UK waste in 2017. Exports to Turkey rose from 12,000 tons a year in 2016 to 210,000 tons in 2020, almost 40 percent of all UK plastic exported.
It is illegal for Britain to export rubbish unless it is destined to be recycled or incinerated in an energy from waste plant.
The World-Wide Fund for Nature claims nearly 1 million tons of plastic are “open dumped” each year in Turkey.
Much is burnt, causing a serious threat to health, with those living nearby suffering from respiratory problems, headaches and itchy eyes. Toxic fumes may also cause menstruation difficulties and higher rates of cancer.
Last year, Greenpeace found hazardous chemical pollutants in five areas in southern Turkey, where imported UK grocery packaging had been burnt.
Levels of toxic chemicals in the soil and ash at some of these locations are thousands of times higher than control sites.
After a Greenpeace report showed in May 2021 that Turkey had turned into a prime destination of European waste, the Turkish government banned the import of polymer waste such as plastic bags and Styrofoam cups following a public outcry over images of trash illegally dumped and burnt along roadsides.
Eurostat data show Turkey receiving nearly a quarter of the plastic waste exported by EU nations in 2019.
Polymers are the synthetic building blocs of the material used to make everything from plastic bags to food wraps and many bottles.
They are also used in non-stick surfaces such as teflon.
Recycling firms in Turkey have defended the rise in imports.
They argue that waste plastic allows the reuse of material that otherwise clogs landfills for decades.