IN just a few short years, Turkey has become the world’s biggest importer of European waste, including plastic.
The rubbish is purchased by Turkish firms to be recycled, representing a growing source of revenue for a country whose economy is suffering more every day.
“Turkey is a country that cannot even manage to handle its own waste. Therefore uncontrolled waste imports to Turkey can ramp up Turkey’s own problems regarding its own recycling system,” Deniz Bayram, a legal counsel at Greenpeace Mediterranean explains.
“We don’t even know what percentage of the imported waste is actually being recycled, incinerated or stored in landfills,” said Nihan Temiz Ataş, director of the plastics project at Greenpeace Mediterranean.
The government is under growing political pressure to act. Environment Minister Murat Kurum said last month that the government is planning to introduce legislation to “prevent the import of high amounts of waste.”
The move, he added, “will enable us to meet the raw material needs of our recycling sector from our own resources.”
The flood of garbage creates obvious environmental problems for Turkey, but there are also economic interests quite happy to be the plastic waste-taker of last resort for Europe. Turkey imported about 600,000 tons of plastic waste last year, which the country’s plastics industry welcomed as providing a crucial resource.
“Our country has an 85 per cent dependence on imported plastic raw materials,” said Habibe Tosun, an environmental engineer at PAGÇEV, the recycling entity of the Turkish Plastics Industry Foundation.
The reason the industry is so welcoming of outside waste is that Turkey does such a poor job of dealing with its own recycling.
Industry representatives, including Tosun, argue that waste imports should continue for the sake of plastics manufacturers until local recyclers can better deal with Turkey’s own garbage. Environmentalists also want to ensure that Turkey develops its own waste recovery instead of relying on imports.
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