More than half of the plastic the British government claims is being recycled is actually being sent overseas – where it ends up being dumped, burned or left to pollute the ocean, a Greenpeace investigation has revealed.
The UK exported 688,000 tonnes of discarded plastic packaging in 2020 – an average of 1.8 million kilos every day. Just 486,000 tonnes were recycled in the UK, with Turkey the latest destination for British plastic waste, the group found.
Greenpeace is promoting a dramatic new publicity campaign, aimed at exposing the inadequacies of the UK’s plastic policy. In a powerful video, entitled ‘Wasteminster’, a Spitting Image-type Boris Johnson figurine is pictured being engulfed by plastic waste as he gives a speech on the steps of Downing Street.
“Plastic isn’t just a problem for wildlife and our oceans, it’s a problem for people too. Local communities near where UK plastic is dumped and burned are developing serious health issues. This isn’t building back better, this is more rich countries exploiting poorer ones,” Greenpeace said.
What’s the UK government’s plastic policy? Dump it on other countries! Less than 10% of our plastic recycling is actually recycled in the UK.— Greenpeace UK (@GreenpeaceUK) May 17, 2021
The rest is sent overseas where it’s often burned or dumped, fuelling health and wildlife emergencies.
RT to expose. #Wasteminster 1/5 pic.twitter.com/Jx1IzpRipE
China had been the key destination for British plastic waste, but it banned the import of many types of plastic in 2017. Turkey has since emerged as the main recipient of the country’s plastic waste, with exports to the country increasing from 12,000 tonnes in 2016 to 209,642 tonnes in 2020 – about 30 per cent of the UK’s plastic waste exports.
But, instead of being recycled, Greenpeace investigators in Turkey found plastic waste being dumped, burned, stuffed into mountainsides and left to spill into rivers and the sea.
In a report, Trashed, published on Monday, the group revealed that it had found packaging from Tesco, Asda, Co-op, Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Marks & Spencer at ten sites around the southern Turkish city of Adana.
Plastic bags and discarded Lucozade and Fanta bottles were dumped in fields, near rivers or on train tracks; in many cases, the plastic had been burned.
Greenpeace UK is urging the government to enact the long-awaited environment bill – and use the powers within it to ban all plastic waste exports.
Nihan Temiz Ataş, the Turkey-based biodiversity projects lead at Greenpeace Mediterranean, said: “As this new evidence shows, plastic waste coming from the UK to Turkey is an environmental threat, not an economic opportunity. Uncontrolled imports of plastic waste do nothing but increase the problems that exist in Turkey’s own recycling system.”
Other European countries have chosen Turkey as the main recipient of their trash; about 241 lorryloads of plastic come to Turkey every day from across Europe, 20 times more than in 2016.
“As far as we can see from the data and the field, we continue to be Europe’s largest plastic waste dump,” Ataş said.