Greenpeace UK is calling on the government to enact the Environment Bill and use the powers within it to ban all plastic waste exports, not just to non-OECD members.
A report released by Greenpeace Mediterranean today (9 February), Game of Waste, suggests five sites in southern Turkey are ‘extensively contaminated’ with hazardous chemical pollutants, following what Greenpeace calls the ‘illegal dumping and open burning’ of imported plastic waste.
Last year Greenpeace investigators said they found UK grocery packaging dumped in the same five areas.
Greenpeace says that scientists found that levels of toxic chemicals* in the soil and ash at some of these locations are ‘thousands of times higher’ than control sites.
Levels of these pollutants were very high at some of these sites where plastic imported from countries including the UK gets dumped
Samples of soil, ash, water and sediment collected from the five sites were examined by scientists from both Greenpeace Research Laboratories and an independent laboratory, the campaigners say.
They tested to identify ‘as many chemical pollutants as possible’, and also measured the concentrations of more than 60 chemical pollutants generally associated with plastic packaging or the burning of plastics.
The presence of a wide range of toxic chemicals was identified in ash and soil samples from all five locations, Greenpeace says.
Dr Kevin Brigden, one of the scientists who carried out the analysis, said: “Many of the chemical pollutants found in the samples of ash and underlying soil are highly resistant to breaking down in the environment and can build up in animals and humans over time.
“Levels of these pollutants were very high at some of these sites where plastic imported from countries including the UK gets dumped.”
Similar contamination was reportedly found both in ash from the sites and in the soil under the ash, indicating that the chemical pollutants were transferred from ash to the soil, Greenpeace says.
Some of the organic pollutants that the scientists found in high levels can remain in soil for a very long time, it says, and the chemicals can ‘potentially contaminate nearby surface water and leak into underground water sources’.
Greenpeace says these can harm wildlife, microorganisms, plant life and people. The chemicals can biologically accumulate once they enter the food chain, it says.
Nihan Temiz Ataş, Biodiversity Project Lead at 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
“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. This damage is irreversible.
“Exporting countries must take responsibility and stop sending plastic to Turkey. Turkey is not your plastic dump and these harmful waste games must end.”
From January to November 2021, the UK exported 117,678 tonnes of waste plastic to Turkey (December data not yet available).
Greenpeace UK is calling on the government to enact the Environment Bill, and use the powers within it to ban all plastic waste exports, not just to non-OECD members.
It says this should start with an ‘immediate ban’ on all exports to non-OECD countries and mixed plastic waste to OECD countries.
Greenpeace UK is also calling for a complete ban on all plastic waste exports by 2025, and for the government to also set legally-binding targets to reduce single-use plastics by 50% by 2025.
Dioxins and furans: The scientists found that the level of dioxins and furans detected at one site was the ‘highest ever reported in the soil in Turkey’, Greenpeace says – 400,000 times that of the control site. In another location the level of dioxins and furans in ash was more than 6,000 times that of soil at the control site, according to the report. Greenpeace says, dioxins and furans can ‘be toxic to fetuses, cause premature birth, trigger tumours, cause skin lesions and affect hormone and immune systems’.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): At one location the total concentration of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in soil was found to be 30,000 times higher than the control sample, Greenpeace says. ‘Exposure to PCBs can harm embryos and fetuses and disrupt hormones, and PCBs can be transferred from mothers to babies via breastfeeding’, it says.
Metals and metalloids: Certain metals and metalloids were found at elevated concentrations across all sites including cadmium and lead which persist in the environment and can accumulate in the body, the report found. ‘Lead can cause irreversible damage to the nervous system and cadmium is classified as carcinogenic for humans’, Greenpeace says.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs): In four locations chlorinated benzene compounds were found, some of which can affect the blood and cause skin lesions and liver disease, Greenpeace says. ‘In some places the concentration of benzo(a)pyrene, a known human carcinogen, in ash samples was above the limit allowed for residential soils in Turkey’, it said.
The full analytical report from the Greenpeace Research Laboratories is here.