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LONDON: UK recycling waste transported to illegal Turkish dumps are contributing to dangerously toxic soil contamination, a Greenpeace report has warned.

Adana province in southwest Turkey was found to contain 10 dumps where packaging and plastic waste, mainly from Britain, was discovered.

Following soil sample laboratory testing at five of the sites, Greenpeace warned that contamination had reached “thousands of times higher” than control levels.

“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,” said Dr. Kevin Brigden, one of the scientists who carried out the testing. 

“Levels of these pollutants were very high at some of these sites where plastic imported from countries, including the UK, gets dumped.”

A Greenpeace press release warned that the contaminants “can remain in soil for a very long time and leak into nearby surface water and underground water sources. This pollution can harm wildlife, microorganisms, plant life and people. The chemicals can biologically accumulate once they enter the food chain.”

Dioxins and furans, compound group pollutants detected at one site at levels 400,000 higher than normal, can be toxic to fetuses, cause premature birth, trigger tumors and skin lesions, and affect hormones and immune systems. 

Greenpeace said most of the recycling waste discovered at the Turkish dumps had been imported from the UK and Germany.

Waste exports to Turkey have surged in recent years following China’s ban on rubbish imports in 2017.

From 2016 to 2020, UK waste exports to Turkey grew from 12,000 tons per year to more than 200,000.

But despite a recent clampdown following an earlier Greenpeace investigation, Turkey is still facing significant environmental and health implications as a result of waste, said Nihan Temiz Ata of Greenpeace Mediterranean.

“Turkey’s soil, air and water are bearing witness to the environmental and human health costs of Europe’s plastic waste exports,” she added.

“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. Exporting countries must take responsibility and stop sending plastic to Turkey.”

Greenpeace UK is demanding that the British government enact the Environment Bill, which grants the power to ban all plastic waste exports, which the organization is calling for by 2025.

“This is the toxic fingerprint of Britain’s dangerous pattern of dumping plastic waste out of sight and out of mind,” said Megan Randles, political campaigner at Greenpeace UK.

“This proof of the harm our plastic can cause, when dumped and burned overseas, should spur the government on to do the right thing and ban plastic waste exports.”

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