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Environment

UK sends thousands of tonnes of plastic to Turkey to be burned every year

“It is appalling to see plastic from UK supermarkets’ shelves ending up 3,000 kilometres away in burning piles on the side of Turkish roads.”

Huge amounts of plastic waste from UK supermarkets are exported to Turkey where it is dumped in rivers or burned by the side of the road, according to new evidence from Greenpeace.

Photos and videos from the environmental campaigners show branded packaging and a Covid antigen test found at multiple sites across the south of the country. Plastics from Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Lidl, M&S, Sainsbury’s and Tesco were revealed, as well as other retailers such as B&Q, Debenhams, Poundland and Spar. 

“It is appalling to see plastic from UK supermarkets’ shelves ending up 3,000 kilometres away in burning piles on the side of Turkish roads,” said Nina Schrank, senior plastics campaigner at Greenpeace UK. 

“We must stop dumping our plastic waste on other countries.” 

A government spokesperson told The Big Issue the UK is “committed to banning the export of plastic waste”.

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Greenpeace investigators also documented plastic waste dumped by roadsides, in fields or spilling into waterways and floating downstream in the Adana province of southwestern Turkey. 

At one site, Greenpeace claimed packaging for a Covid-19 test was found among bags of UK plastic, suggesting the waste was recent. 

Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green Party, said: “It’s shocking to see these vast swathes of waste, which originate from leading UK supermarkets, being burned across Turkey. 

“The government is washing its hands of rubbish and dumping it on the shores of other countries, failing to deal with the issue itself and leaving it to burn to the great detriment of the environment.” 

Plastic waste sent overseas risked causing a “health emergency” for local people, killing wildlife and polluting oceans, Greenpeace claimed. It said more than half the plastic waste ministers count as “recycled” is actually sent overseas, with 210,000 tonnes of plastic waste exported to Turkey alone in 2020, according to the Government’s own data

The campaigners are calling on the government to enact the stalled environment bill and use the powers within it to ban all plastic waste exports. 

Despite assurances from the prime minister that the government would ramp up its environmental pledges and slash carbon emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 when compared to 1990 levels the landmark legislation has been delayed on three occasions.

Schrank added: “The heart of the problem is overproduction – the UK is the second biggest user of plastic waste per person in the world, behind the US. 

“The government needs to take control of this problem. 

“They can start by banning plastic waste exports and reducing single-use plastic by 50 per cent by 2025. 

“This would not only allow the UK to end waste exports, but would also mean less plastic going into incineration and landfill.” 

Womack added: “The government has a legal responsibility to deal with exported waste correctly and so must be held accountable for their actions.

“This is another example of Westminster’s foundation-less ‘green’ rhetoric at such a critical time for the climate crisis, and ahead of the UK-led COP later this year where they must set an example for other countries to follow.

“Now more than ever, action must be taken to ban single-use plastic from our supermarket shelves and implement a reformed waste and recycling strategy that faces up to this issue.”

Peter Andrews, head of sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, which represents the retail industry, said: “Retailers are shocked by these reports. They take their responsibility to tackle plastic pollution seriously and are investing millions in reducing plastic waste.

“It is therefore incredibly frustrating to discover some waste handlers in the supply chain are not acting responsibly, and it highlights the urgent need to fix the UK’s recycling infrastructure and regulate those handling the county’s waste.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are clear that the UK should handle more of its waste at home, and that’s why we are 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.

“The UK is a global leader in tackling plastic pollution and our proposals for extended producer responsibility for packaging, a plastic packaging tax and mandatory electronic waste tracking will boost recycling rates, reduce waste and cut crime.”

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