Turkey is choking on vast inflows of garbage from Europe, prompting a looming ban on almost all plastic waste imports.
That could result in more landfilling and incineration.
The Turkish trade ministry announced earlier this week it would ban all polyethylene plastics starting in early July. The plastics, used in countless items ranging from yogurt containers to plastic bottles, account for the bulk of all imported waste.
Simon Ellin, chief executive of the U.K.-based Recycling Association, called the decision a “seminal moment” that could radically reshape the global recycling industry.
“I have no idea where the waste that has been going to Turkey will go now,” said Ellin, adding that it will take years before the U.K. has sufficiently scaled up its own recycling capacity.
“I suspect the next best option in the short term is waste-to-energy,” he said, referring to burning non-recyclable waste for electricity or heat.
EU countries started shifting their waste exports to Turkey in 2017, after China banned the import of many types of plastic. In 2020, nearly a quarter of waste exported by EU countries — some 31.7 million tons — went to Turkey. That’s 20 times more than in 2016, and amounts to some 241 truckloads of plastic waste every day, according to a Greenpeace report published earlier this week.
Under EU and U.K. regulations, plastic waste can only be exported if it is going to be recycled. But Turkey has a recycling rate of just 12 percent, indicating the country “lacks the infrastructure to cope with” all of its imported waste, the Greenpeace report said.
The NGO also found that vast amounts of European plastics are being illegally dumped and burned in Turkey, and that some exporters purposely mislabeled their waste to get around a January ban on the import of mixed polymers and plastics that have to be mechanically processed at specialist recycling facilities.
Pollitico, 21 May 2021