The awareness agenda: Turkish society largely blind to country’s import dumping ground status
24 Jan 2022 --- Turkey’s population is largely unaware that the country is being used as a dumping ground for the world’s plastic waste, according to new research by Microplastic Research Group (MRG).
In a study carried out in collaboration with the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, MRG found that around 55% of Turkish people had no idea the nation is one of the world’s top importers of plastic trash.
Dr. Sedat Gündoğdu, chief scientist of MRG, tells PackagingInsights the research was conducted to expose the lack of awareness and raise public pressure against import practices that damage local communities and the environment.
“With this study, it is understood that the awareness of Turkish people about waste import is not at a sufficient level, but the majority of those who have awareness have negative opinions,” says Gündoğdu. “In this case, the share of news studies carried out with the information provided by our research group cannot be denied.”
Gauging consumer perceptions
A total of 1078 people (48.6% male and 51.4% female) in 25 cities across Turkey were interviewed to assess their knowledge and perception of environmental problems and waste imports.
In terms of the news sources participants follow, they stated that 61.8% of the audience receives news from social media, and among this audience, 43.9% use Twitter and 54.2% use Instagram most frequently.
Of these respondents, 88.2% say they are “sensitive” or “extremely sensitive” to environmental issues in Turkey, and 52% of the participants said they heard about Turkey’s waste imports from the internet and social media platforms.
The participants were then asked whether they had heard of plastic waste imports, and 45% stated that they had. However, the question “Should Turkey import plastic waste?” gained a “no” response from 61% of participants.
A Western dumping ground
Turkey quickly became one of the world’s major garbage dumps after China decided to ban plastic waste imports in 2018, after 24 years as an official landing ground for 45% of global trash.
The move by the Chinese government caused chaos in the global waste trade, and after many other Southeast Asian nations quickly shut their borders in the same fashion, many western countries – especially those in the EU and US – turned to Turkey as a solution.
Greenpeace estimates that nearly 40% of the UK’s entire plastic waste was exported to Turkey in 2020, with much of it being buried or burned.
Turkey imported about 800,000 tons of plastic waste from EU countries, the UK, and the US last year and was ranked by an official OECD report as the worst member country for overall waste recovery.
According to WWF Turkey, roughly 1.1 million metric tons of waste leak into the country’s soil and water annually.
Unsurprisingly, 41.6% of MRG’s poll participants expressed negative opinions about waste importation. However, 16.5% say they feel the trade positively contributes to the nation’s economy, and 5.1% feel “very good” about the situation.
Gündoğdu says the results show MRG’s research projects have contributed to increased societal awareness around this issue.
“However, it reveals that a significant part of society is still unaware of the problems created by waste imports. Awareness studies should be continued on different platforms other than social media,” he asserts.
“In particular, it reveals the necessity of explaining the negative impact of waste imports on the Turkish ecosystem and waste management infrastructure by creating a campaign that can reach all segments of society.”
“In the coming period, it is imperative the campaign against plastic waste imports should be expanded with various performances and open-air shows.”
Recently, PackagingInsights spoke with MRG and other Turkish sources about the phenomenon of arson being routinely exercised at recycling facilities throughout the country as a means of cheaply and illegally destroying hazardous plastic waste. Undocumented migrants working at the facilities are thought to be regular casualties of this practice.
By Louis Gore-Langton
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