Primary destination for EU’s waste: Turkey


Economic Development Foundation (IKV) published a policy brief entitled ‘The Future of Single-Use Plastics in Turkey and the EU.’ Prepared by junior IKV researcher N. Melis Bostanoglu as part of IKV Brief Series, the brief aims to address the increased plastic production and consumption and the negative consequences they bring to Turkey and the EU. The report also reveals how Turkey has become a primary destination for the EU’s waste exports following China’s decision to ban plastic waste imports. 

Similar to EU member states, Turkey has also started to address the unmanageable single-use plastics at a policy level, in the last few years. Especially through its Zero Waste Project, Turkey has taken some steps on waste management and also introduced some economic instruments on specific plastic products, in line with the Environment chapter of the EU acquis

“Plastic waste pollution has become one of the greatest environmental challenges Turkey has to face in the last decade,” said in the IKV brief. Annual plastic bag consumption of Turkey is 30-35 billion (440 plastic bag per person), according to a statement by the Ministry of Environment and Urbanisation in late 2018. This indicates that the plastic bag consumption in Turkey was highly above European average, according to IKV brief.  

Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum had declared in the late 2018 that, annual plastic bag consumption per person would be limited to 90 by 31 December 2019 and to 40 by 31 December 2025 in order to prevent the excessive plastic bag consumption and plastic pollution.  

The regulation entitled “The Procedures and Principles Regarding the Charging of Plastic Bags” requires that the carrier plastic bags will be charged for no less than 0.25 Turkish liras at the point of sales of products. The Central Accountancy Directorate of the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization will be collecting 0.15 Turkish liras per plastic bag as a recycling contribution share. 

Consumption decreased by 77% in a year 

Although sparked off a strong reaction in the public in the beginning, the number of plastic bags used per person decreased significantly in a short time period with the regulation. Single-use plastic bag consumption decreased by 77% in just one year, and plastic bag consumption per person per month decreased from 35 to 10 by the end of 2019, according to a statement by the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization in early 2020. Furthermore, approximately 200 thousand tons of plastic was saved since the introduction of the plastic bag charge and 8 thousand tons of greenhouse gas emissions were prevented. 

Although the charge of plastic bags increased to 0.30 Turkish liras at the beginning of 2020, the Ministry announced that plastic bags will continue to be sold for 0.25 Turkish liras. However, the recycling contribution share has increased to 0.18 Turkish liras in 2020 and to 0.19 Turkish liras in 2021.

Share of plastic bag production increased to 42%

On the production side, 9.54 million tons of plastic products were manufactured in Turkey in 2020, According to the latest data provided by PAGE. Although the capacity utilisation became unstable in 2020 due to coronavirus pandemic, a slight increase in plastic products production can be observed, since 9.46 million tons of plastic products were produced in 2019. This increase originated from the high increase in exports, despite the decreasing demand in the domestic market, according to IKV brief.  

“In a similar trend to the EU, plastic packaging production takes the lead with 4 million tons. Plastic construction material production follows with 1.9 million tons. The share of packaging plastic production increased from 40% in 2019 to 42% in 2020.”

11.4 million tons of EU waste was imported in 2019 

Turkey was the primary destination for the EU’s waste exports in 2019, with a volume around 11.4 million of tons, according to IKV. This indicates an almost threefold increase compared to the EU’s waste exports to Turkey in 2004. India, the UK, Switzerland, and Norway followed Turkey as the biggest importers of EU waste. 

Following China’s decision to ban plastic waste imports, the EU exported its plastic waste primarily to Malaysia (24%), Turkey (17%) and Indonesia (6%) in 2019. Moreover, the amount of plastic waste Turkey imported from the EU increased 173 times in 2019 compared to 2004, according to the Greenpeace Turkey. Greenpeace Turkey portrays this situation as “213 trucks full of plastic dumping these plastics in Turkey every day”. Top five plastic waste exporters to Turkey were respectively the UK (153,976 tonnes), Italy (85,843 tonnes), Belgium (85,843 tonnes), Germany (67,466 tonnes), and France (56,824 tonnes).

Here is the link to the full report:

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