Turkey u-turn on plastic waste imports risks more British recycling in landfill, campaigners say

British plastic must be recycled in the UK, campaigners have said, after Turkey reversed a ban on imports in a move that could see more waste end up in landfill. 

Turkey backtracked on a decision to end the import of most plastic waste, which it brought in after British household rubbish was found burning in landfill sites, just a week after the new rule was brought in. 

Campaigners fear that the lifting of the ban, which came after Turkey’s government met with members of its plastic industry, could see more British plastic intended for recycling ending up illegally dumped or burned. 

“We have been campaigning for years to stop the huge amount of plastic waste coming to Turkey, which makes us Europe’s largest plastic waste dumpster. There are about 240 truckloads every day. Plastic trash overwhelms our struggling recycling system, gets into the environment, and is incinerated creating toxic fumes,” said Nihan Temiz Ataş, Biodiversity Projects Lead from Greenpeace Mediterranean. 

"We are saddened to hear that the Minister of the Environment has bowed to pressure from the industry and overturned the ban on plastic imports so quickly, in just a week. ."

About 40 per cent of the UK’s plastic waste exports were sent to Turkey in 2020, a massive increase in the past two years. 

“With the Turkish government stalling on their own restrictions, the UK government must even more urgently ban all plastic waste exports and stop our plastic mess impacting other countries,” said Megan Randles, political campaigner at Greenpeace UK.

“We also need legislation to make UK companies reduce the amount of plastic they produce in the first place.”

The Government has made a pledge to end exports to countries outside the OECD, which would not affect Turkey, but has yet to enforce it. 

But changes to the international Basel Convention governing exports to non-OECD countries which came into force in January have seen a drop in exports to Malaysia, once one of the most popular destinations for British waste. 

The top three countries for plastic waste exports from Britain are now Turkey, Netherlands and Poland. 

Ending imports would require significant investment in domestic infrastructure as the UK does not have the recycling capacity for all of its own plastic waste.

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