Turkey's lack of law enforcement in plastic recycling harming health, environment: HRW

Turkey's lack of law enforcement in plastic recycling harming health, environment: HRW
The rights group said Turkey's lax enforcement of laws and regulations on plastic recycling facilities in the country were putting people at risk of serious, lifelong health conditions.
2 min read
21 September, 2022
Plastic recycling facilities are harming workers and neighbouring communities, Human Rights Watch said [Getty]

Turkey's failure to enforce laws on plastic recycling is harming the health of its people and environment, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

In an 88-page report titled "'It’s as If They’re Poisoning Us': The Health Impacts of Plastic Recycling in Turkey," the human rights group said Ankara is failing to enforce laws that require strict licensing and regular, thorough inspections of recycling facilities and occupational health.

Because of this, air pollutants and toxins emitted from the recycling process affect workers and people living near these facilities, including children, the rights group said.

"Turkey has regulations to protect people and the environment, but a lack of enforcement is increasing people’s risk of serious, life-long health conditions," said Krista Shennum, Gruber Fellow in the Environment and Human Rights division at Human Rights Watch.

Workers at these facilities and neighbouring communities interviewed by HRW said they suffered from respiratory problems, severe headaches, skin ailments, lack of protective equipment, and little to no access to medical treatment for occupational illnesses.

HRW said many of the plastic recycling facilities were "dangerously close" to homes, in violation of Turkish laws and environmental regulations.

The report found that workers and nearby residents are not provided with basic information about levels of toxins in their environment, risks from those toxic exposures, or ways to minimise those risks, despite local law requiring authorities to do so.

Since the Chinese government banned plastic waste imports in 2018, many countries in the ‘Global North’ have scrambled to find new destinations for their plastic waste.

Thanks to its geographic proximity, strong trade relations with the EU and status as an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development member, Turkey has become the primary destination for the EU’s plastic waste, receiving nearly half of the EU’s plastic waste exports in 2020 and 2021, according to the HRW report.

"Europe’s wealthiest countries are sending their trash to Turkey, consigning some of Turkey’s most vulnerable communities, including children, refugees and migrants, to serious environmental and health risks," Shennum said.

"The EU and individual plastic-exporting countries should take responsibility for their own plastic waste, end the export of plastic to Turkey, and reduce the amount of plastic they produce and consume."