A GPS tracker placed inside bags of recyclables revealed a 3,200 km long journey from London to Adana in southern Turkey.
Journalist Kit Chellel prepared three trackers to see how the problem of plastic recycling was actually handled in the United Kingdom. One of the trackers disappeared, while the other two travelled through the Netherlands, Germany and Poland to arrive in Adana, the journalist wrote for Bloomberg on Tuesday.
The bags that ended up in Turkey arrived to Poland within hours, and appeared to stop in a sorting facility in Zielona Gora, Poland. After disappearing for weeks, the signal reappeared in the warehouses of IMO Plastik, an industrial estate in the southern Turkish province.
“There are good recycling companies in Turkey that have great reputations,” Chellel told Bloomberg in an interview. “But unfortunately Turkey, as a destination for waste, has huge problems. A lot of the plastic that goes to Turkey ends up being illegally disposed of.”
The IMO Plastik warehouse was in a remote area and there was “no plastic recycling company nearby that we could identify”, Chellel continued.
The journalist arranged a Turkish colleague to visit the site. “What she found outside a warehouse, just left in a big pile, was tons and tons of waste from around Europe.”
According to Chellel, waste brokers in Europe often dispose of lowest-grade plastics via fires, which release toxic materials into the air and ground.
“In Turkey there are roughly two suspicious fires a week at recycling centers,” he wrote. “Unscrupulous operators are also known to use Syrian refugee camps as a source of cheap labor.”
The practice is not new, according to Bloomberg. Tesco bags were found in the same area in the past.
Turkish Environment and Urbanisation Minister Murat Kurum denied the allegations on Thursday.
“News stories about dangerous waste in Adana are baseless. Seven units have done field sweeps, and not encountered any dump sites. The images have been analysed and found to not be recent,” Kurum said.
Kurum told state-run Anadolu Agency that soil sample tests from 11 sites had shown no danger to public health.
“Meanwhile we continue supervision for facilities with waste material import licences. You cannot slander Turkey with fake news,” Environment and Urbanisation Deputy Minister and Turkey’s Special Envoy for Climate Change Mehmet Emin Birpınar said in a tweet.
Birpınar said British waste lobbyists “want to make stuffing with packaging waste. They are working to prevent us from doing this job, developing the recycling economy”.
“Do not believe everything you see,” Birpınar said earlier. “Do not fall for appearances. There is not a single piece of waste in Adana in the field coming from abroad.”