Plastic waste placed in recycling bins by British households may have contributed to severe contamination of soil after toxic chemicals were found at several illegal dumps in Turkey, according to an investigation by Greenpeace.
Packaging and plastic bags from supermarkets in the UK were found at ten sites in the Adana province in the country’s southwest last year.
Samples of soil and ash were collected at five of the sites and sent for testing by an independent laboratory for levels of chemical pollutants linked to plastic packaging or the burning of plastics. The samples were found to contain levels of chemicals thousands of times higher than at nearby control sites.
The level of dioxins and furans detected at one site was the highest ever reported in the soil in Turkey — 400,000 times that of the control site.
Dioxins and furans can be toxic to foetuses, cause premature birth, trigger tumours, skin lesions and affect hormones and immune systems.
Greenpeace said most of the plastic at the sites identifiable as from overseas had come from the UK or Germany.
Turkey’s waste imports multiplied after China banned them in 2017. Exports from Britain to Turkey increased from 12,000 tonnes a year in 2016 to 210,000 tonnes in 2020, almost 40 per cent of the UK’s plastic waste exports.
Turkey introduced tougher restrictions on the imports last year after Greenpeace reported in May that it had found British waste at the sites. Turkey imported only 484 tonnes from the UK in July but by November the monthly amount had risen to 4,126 tonnes.
Nihan Temiz Ata, of Greenpeace Mediterranean, said: “Turkey’s soil, air and water are bearing witness to the environmental and human health costs of Europe’s plastic waste exports. Countries like the UK and Germany, who ship their plastic rubbish overseas where it’s dumped and burned, are leaving a toxic trace in Turkey’s fertile soil. Exporting countries must take responsibility and stop sending plastic to Turkey.”
Boris Johnson made a manifesto commitment in 2019 to ban the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries. Turkey is an OECD country and therefore is not covered by the pledge.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that the Environment Agency had prevented the illegal export of 104 containers of plastic waste to Turkey last year.
A Defra spokesman said it was “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.”