Turkey bans almost all plastic waste imports

The Turkish Ministry of Trade has announced that most plastic waste imports into Turkey will be banned from 2 July.

plastic waste on a beachThe announcement follows the release of a Greenpeace investigation, which found evidence that plastic waste being sent from the UK to Turkey for recycling was being illegally dumped and burned in areas of southern Turkey.

The new import ban will include polyethylene plastic, which makes up 94 per cent of the waste the UK exports to Turkey, and 74 per cent of all plastic waste the country receives, according to Greenpeace.

In 2020, the UK exported nearly 198,000 tonnes of polyethylene to Turkey. Polyethylene is used in the production of plastic film, plastic bags, yoghurt pots and containers for shampoos and detergents.

Polyethylene will now join plastic mixtures such as PVC and plastic waste containing polymers produced as a result of mechanical treatment of waste on Turkey’s list of banned plastic imports.

The new ban does not expand to the importing of water bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or bottles caps and food pots and tubs made of polypropylene (PP).

Turkey has been the top destination for UK plastic waste for several years, after surpassing China when the Chinese Government banned the import of many types of plastic in 2017. Last year, the Chinese Government extended its ban on imports to all solid waste.

The ban is likely to have international implications, as Turkey received almost half of all global packaging waste exports in the first quarter of 2021, according to estimates from environmental consultancy 360 Environmental.

Organisations including Greenpeace have supported Turkey’s decision and have called for other countries to follow suit, to prevent countries including the UK increasing its imports of plastic waste to other countries.

Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, said: "Fed up of the UK continuously dumping its plastic waste on to them in the name of 'recycling' Turkey has decided to act. Shame on us that we didn't take action before they did.

"Turkey are the latest to join a growing list of countries who will no longer accept our waste. It's vital the Government learns we cannot continue to offshore our responsibility in dealing with our plastic problem. The UK creates more plastic waste per capita than any other country apart from the US. Not a league to be proud of.

"The Government must act immediately and ban the exports of plastic waste to all non-EFTA countries and start to deal with it properly on home soil. Only when we realise the scale of our plastic waste, will we finally realise we have to turn off the plastic tap."

A Defra spokesperson commented: “We are clear that the UK should handle more of its waste at home, and that’s why we are committed to banning the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries and clamping down on illegal waste exports – including to countries such as Turkey – through tougher controls.

“The UK is a global leader in tackling plastic pollution and our proposals for extended producer responsibility for packaging, a plastic packaging tax and mandatory electronic waste tracking will boost recycling rates, reduce waste and cut crime.”