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Turkey was Europe’s largest plastic waste destination in 2022: report

Employees work on November 28, 2020 at GAMA Recycle factory in the southern Turkish province of Gaziantep. - It is supposed to be recycled but instead plastic packaging from popular British supermarkets like Sainsbury's and French frozen food retailer Picard is ending up being dumped illegally in the Turkish countryside. There are at least 10 known sites in southern Turkey where European plastics have been dumped illegally. (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP)

The European Union exported some 319,000 tons of plastic waste to Turkey in 2022, making it the bloc’s largest plastic waste destination, according to a report by BBC’s Turkish service, citing the latest figures released by Eurostat.

The report said Turkey imported 319,000 tons of plastic waste, accounting for 29 percent of all such waste exported by the EU. This positions Turkey ahead of other major importing countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, which accounted for 17 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

The EU exported 1.1 million tons of plastic waste to countries outside the union in 2022. This export is part of a larger trend, where the EU’s overall export of waste — including paper, plastic and glass — reached a total of 6.4 million tons. Interestingly, this figure represents an 8.4 percent increase from 2021 but shows a decrease of more than 35 percent compared to 2010.

The export of paper waste also saw Turkey as a significant importer, with the country receiving 588,000 tons, making it one of the top recipients alongs with India and Indonesia. The EU’s total export of paper waste amounted to 4.9 million tons, with 29 percent going to India, 19 percent to Indonesia and 12 percent to Turkey.

On a financial basis, the EU’s exports of waste in the last year included 930 million euros in paper, 423 million euros in plastic and 25 million euros in glass.

However, the increase in plastic waste imports by Turkey has raised concerns regarding health and environmental standards. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in September 2022 that workers and residents near plastic recycling plants in Turkey are facing threats to their health. Complaints of respiratory illness, chronic headaches and skin problems were prevalent among workers, who often lack access to protective equipment and health services for occupational diseases.

Eurostat’s 2021 data indicated that Turkey was the largest importer of waste from the European Union, importing 14.7 million tons, including approximately two-thirds of all scrap metal exported from the EU, amounting to 13.1 million tons.

This increasing trend of waste export to countries with potentially lower environmental, climate, labor and social standards has been criticized by organizations like the Brussels-based European Steel Association (EUROFER). In response to these concerns, the European Parliament earlier this year passed new legislation introducing stricter procedures and control measures for waste shipment, including a ban on the shipment of all waste destined for disposal.

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