Turkey, garbage dump of the world?

Turkey is importing more and more plastic waste from the United Kingdom, endangering its environment and the livelihoods of its trash pickers, The Guardian reported

In the first three months of this year, British firms shipped 27,034 tonnes of waste plastic to Turkey, according to exporters' data from the UK's Environment Agency (EA), more than double the 12,022 tonnes from the same period last year. 

All of the trash Turkey imports from the United Kingdom is meant for reuse, as it is illegal for British companies to export waste for disposal abroad other than for recycling or recovery. Yet the EA has not visited Turkey to check whether UK plastic packaging waste is actually being recycled or reused, or even to confirm the landfill process will prevent leakage into rivers and the ocean, the British news outlet said. 

Turkey's recycling record is not reassuring. Turkey recycles just one percent of its domestic waste, sending the rest to landfill, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development data from 2015. As a result, Turkey ranks among the world's worst performers when it comes to managing plastic waste, research published in the journal Science said. 

Turkey's National recycling strategy, published by the Ministry of Science, Industry and Technology, said more than half of the waste generated in the country can be recycled.

Vedat Kılıç, head of Turkey's recyclable waste industrialists' association, said the increased imports presented both an opportunity and a risk. Speaking at a conference titled Fire in the Waste Sector! Don’t Let Turkey Be the Garbage Dump of the World, Kılıç said the increase in imports put the zero-waste policy launched by Turkey's first lady, Emine Erdoğan, at risk. 

If the imports are recycled, Turkey's growing plastic industry could make synthetic yarn, shopping bags, and more, boosting revenues. If they are not recycled, the waste could damage Turkey's environment.

Turkey's Mediterranean coast is already the sea's most polluted area, according to Sedat Gündoğdu, an academic at the Çukurova University Faculty of Fisheries. The southern coastal cities of Mersin, Adana, and Antalya produce more plastic waste than any others in Turkey, and rainfall and rivers bring it to the coast.  

The impact is visible along the 22 kilometres of Akyatan beach, with its famed green turtle nests. The beach is now littered with significant plastic pollution, Guardian said.

Recycling was not the solution, according to Gündoğdu. "The only solution is to decrease plastic consumption, otherwise everyone, including Europeans coming for holiday to the coast of Mediterranean, might end up swimming along in their own waste," he said.

The trash import also affects waste collectors of Turkey, who collect 80 percent of this waste from streets. "It could damage the income my colleagues and me earn from garbage picking," The Guardian quoted Recep Karaman, head of the street waste collectors association, as saying. “We collect 3.5 million of the 6 million tonnes of waste produced annually. But our earnings drop due to imports; they decrease the value of the waste we collect.”