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Turkey bans import of polyethylene waste

Containership leaving a port, cranes and stacks of containers shown in the background
Turkey was the largest single destination for EU waste
plastics exports in 2020, according to Eurostat.
20.05.2021 − 

The Turkish government has announced a ban on the import of plastic waste falling under commodity code 3915.10.00.00. This material, "waste, parings and scrap of ethylene", generally consists of LDPE and HDPE wastes. The Turkish Ministry of Trade announced in the Official Gazette on Tuesday that polyethylene wastes would be reclassified. According to the notice, the PE-based plastic waste will be moved to Annex 2/B of the country's waste import control regulations; imports of wastes in that annex are forbidden. The amendment will enter into force after a transition period of 45 days, meaning that exports of HDPE and LDPE waste can only be accepted in Turkey until 2 July. 

PET waste is generally shipped under a different customs code, 3915.90.00.10.

Turkey had emerged as a major destination of plastic waste exports in recent years, as numerous other countries in Asia tightened quality standards or banned imports altogether. In 2020, Turkey was the largest single destination for waste plastics exports from the EU, according to the statistics office Eurostat.

In recent months, environmental organisations such as Greenpeace had criticised exports, especially from the UK and Germany. They highlighted the rapid growth in imports of plastic waste in certain countries and called for a complete ban on the export of waste plastics to non-OECD states, but also to OECD member Turkey.

Turkish officials had already moved to restrict imports at the end of last year, banning the import of mixed plastics, but also of single-polymer shipments that had undergone mechanical sorting. However, export volumes, at least from the UK, had not indicated any decrease in the amount of waste plastic being shipped to Turkey this year. Concerns had also been raised by shipments of German household packaging waste stranded in Turkish ports after the certification of the Turkish recipient company was revoked. 

Criticism from the Turkish plastics industry

Selçuk Gülsün, president of the Turkish Plastic Industrialists' Association (Pagder) called the ban a "mistake" in a post on Twitter, adding that there was a heavy price for the industry, which had invested plastic recycling capacity, when the rules were changed in the middle of the game. He criticised the implementation of the ban without analysis or discussion with industry representatives. Mr Gülsün warned of the economic and environmental consequences of the ban. Recycling plants would otherwise have to close or relocate abroad, he noted

In Pagder's response to the ban, Mr Gülsün emphasised the necessity of imports. A considerable part of the inputs for Turkey's expanding recycling industry had to be covered by imports, as the collection and sorting infrastructure in Turkey was not sufficient and a source separation system had not yet been set up. The trade group acknowledged the problem of dumping, but argued that public authorities were taking the wrong approach in responding with prohibitions instead of tighter controls.

Domestic arisings not enough

Padger sees parallels between the coming ban on PE waste imports and the earlier ban on engineering plastic scrap. The amount of production scrap of polymers such as polyamide and polycarbonate generated in Turkey was insufficient, said the association. Padger said this earlier ban was particularly problematic as the automotive sector required the use of recycled raw materials in certain proportions in plastic car parts. By stopping imports of plastic waste in Turkey, the Turkish automotive industry would also be cut off from the supply chain in the medium term - with devastating consequences, Padger predicted.

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