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‘Ban plastic waste exports’

Huge increase in plastic waste exported from UK to Turkey and Malaysia
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
'Ban plastic waste exports'

The UK exports more than two and a half Olympic swimming pools of plastic waste every day, according to Greenpeace analysis of the UK’s trade figures for the end of 2020.

There have been enormous increases in the volume sent for recycling in Turkey and Malaysia – two countries where British waste has been found piled up in illegal dump sites or burned.

‘The plastic we carefully wash and sort for recycling is being shipped off to other countries where much of it ends up illegally dumped or burned, poisoning local people and polluting oceans and rivers.

‘The government could put a stop to this but so far Boris Johnson is only offering half measures. We need a complete ban on all plastic waste exports and legislation to make UK companies reduce the amount of plastic they produce in the first place.’

Greenpeace UK political campaigner

UK plastic waste exports

In 2020 the UK exported 537,000 tonnes of plastic waste – roughly the same amount as in 2019 (539,000 tonnes).

The top three countries for UK waste exports are Turkey (39%), Malaysia (12%) and Poland (7%). All three countries have very low recycling rates and a serious problem with plastic waste being dumped or burned illegally.

The volume of plastic waste shipped to Turkey increased by 36% compared with 2019. The volume exported to Malaysia increased by 63%.

Half of the UK’s mixed plastic waste – which is almost impossible to recycle – went to Turkey.

Illegal waste returned to UK

Plastic waste can only be exported from the UK if it is going to another country to be recycled.

However, many of the countries that British waste is being exported to do not have adequate recycling facilities, and British plastic waste has been found dumped or burned in illegal rubbish dumps all over the world.

Thousands of tonnes of illegal plastic waste exports have now been sent back to the UK by China, Malaysia, Poland, Sri Lanka and other countries.

In its 2019 manifesto, the government promised to ban plastic waste exports to countries that are not members of the OECD.

However, just 21% of the UK’s waste exports are to non-OECD countries. 79% of UK waste goes to countries that are in the OECD, such as Turkey, and would not be affected by the proposed ban. Greenpeace is calling on the government to ban all plastic waste exports.

The packaging problem

Turkey, which receives 39% of the UK’s plastic waste and 50% of its unrecyclable mixed plastic waste, is of particular concern.

In July 2020 the BBC filmed British waste dumped by the side of the road near the Turkish city of Adana.

A recent study by WWF found that 800,000 tonnes of plastic waste was ‘open dumped’ (i.e. dumped outside a landfill site) in Turkey every year and an estimated 110,000 tonnes of plastic waste enters the Mediterranean from Turkey every year.

Over two-thirds of plastic waste is packaging. Despite high-profile commitments to reduce plastic packaging, the retail sector has made little progress.

In 2019 the ten biggest supermarkets in the UK produced 896,853 tonnes of plastic packaging – almost exactly the same amount as the year before.

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