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Turkey's Struggle with the Plastic Waste - Nur Durmaz

The mass production of plastics, which started in the 1950s, has increased by 1.5 million tons annually and reached 280 million tons annually, affecting the world negatively has forced many countries to fight against plastic. The only reason for this is that some countries have plastic waste from other countries. While Turkey bought approximately 33 thousand metric tons from Europe in 2015, it increased to approximately 700 thousand metric tons in 2020 and took its place at the top of this list. Turkey imports 40% of the plastic waste produced only by the United Kingdom. Half of this waste is mixed plastic, and it is very difficult to recycle mixed plastics.

Even if Turkey is a country that tries to reduce its plastic production, taking plastics from other countries causes environmental problems and makes Turkey a country that is not clean in the national arena and does not care about environmental pollution. According to the WWF Report, every Mediterranean country mismanages some of its waste. However, considering the plastic production and consumption, the size of the economy, and the existing waste management systems, it is seen that Egypt (42.5%) and Turkey (18.9%) have the highest share at this point. Egypt and Turkey dump 1.3 million tons and 0.8 million tons of untreated plastic waste into open areas each year, making them the two largest open dumping sources. In addition, given the length of their coastlines and the high concentrations of plastic in coastal waters, Italy and Turkey are the two countries with the largest accumulation of coastal plastic debris in the Mediterranean. Despite all this, Turkey will continue to import water bottles and carbonated beverage bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and bottle caps made of polypropylene (PP), some food containers, and tubs. With the consumption and export of plastics, sea and beach pollution will increase. Sea and beach cleaning is very important for tourism. However, shoreline cleaning is also an expensive business. Around 18 million Euros are spent annually on beach cleaning in the UK.

Plastic waste imports brought by China in 2018 turned the eyes to Turkey. However, with the plastic waste, Turkey produces on its own, the plastic waste rate has reached undesirable levels. Researchers analyzed 11 years of data on the global plastics trade versus economic measures for 85 countries. They found that plastic waste imports were associated with growth in GDP per capita in low-income countries. Considering that Turkey is a country in economic distress, it is normal to need this. Still, for economic growth, instead of education reforms, development in technology, and policy differences, it is not a logical solution to take the waste of other countries. Waste intake has many negative impacts on the country and the environment, especially if there is wrong waste management. The ironic point is that the purchase of plastic waste, which is thought to be economically healthy, will be a greater financial burden on us in the future, together with environmental pollution. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the natural capital cost of plastic use in the consumer goods sector is $75 billion each year, with financial impacts from problems such as marine environment pollution or air pollution from the burning of plastic.

The 2018 Interpol plastic waste crimes report cited Turkey as one of seven countries suspected of deliberately starting waste fires to eliminate illegally stored plastic scrap. As bad as the production, purchase, and use of plastic is, its illegal and uncontrolled burning is also very bad. As long as it is controlled, energy can be supplied from the incineration of plastics. After all, plastic is made of hydrocarbons, just like oil, and is energy-intensive, like coal. However, there are several barriers to incineration. In addition to being expensive, there should be no settlement next to the burning facility. Finally, waste-to-power plants have the potential to emit low levels of toxic pollutants such as dioxins, acid gases, and heavy metals. Modern facilities use advanced scrubbers, precipitators, and filters to capture these compounds. "These technologies are beneficial as long as combustion plants are properly operated and controlled emissions," the World Energy Council's 2017 report states. in Istanbul, The Waste Incineration and Biomethanization Facilities in Eyüpsultan is a good example. Many people have benefited from the electricity produced at these facilities.

Greenpeace Turkey called out to Turkey, and all environmentally friendly people with the label Turkey Should Not Be a Plastic Garbage Dumpster because of the illegal plastic waste they found in Adana and İzmir. Thanks to this protest, on May 18, 2021, the importation of plastic waste was prohibited, according to the communiqué published in the Official Gazette. However, Turkey has come one step closer to the idea of zero waste. However, before the decision was implemented, the plastic waste ban was withdrawn, and it was said that the incoming waste would be inspected this time. No matter how inspected, plastic waste should not be kept in a country both in terms of economy and human health. Some of the most visible effects of plastic spills are that hundreds of marine species ingest plastic, suffocate and become entangled with plastics. Marine wildlife such as seabirds, whales, fish, and turtles mistook the plastic for prey; many starved to death as their stomachs were filled with plastic. These wastes do not only negatively affect the lives of animals. Microplastics found in tap water, beer, and salt have been found in all samples collected in the world's oceans, including the Arctic. It is known that some chemicals used in the production of plastic materials are carcinogenic and cause developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune disorders in both humans and wildlife by interfering with the body's endocrine system.

The degradation of the ecosystem means that one more species is extinct. As long as the production and use of plastics in the type and amount that will harm biodiversity, the environmental goals desired to be achieved will remain further away. On the other hand, Turkey makes it more difficult for itself, not only by purchasing waste but also by purchasing plastic waste, which is one of the most unhealthy materials in the world. It has a policy that should not be owned to contribute to the economy. We hope that the purchase of plastic waste, which has a lot of negative effects, will leave itself to be positive and environmentally conscious policies as soon as possible, or we may face undesirable situations in the future.


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