Home » Environmental News » The Health Impacts of Plastic Recycling in Turkey: Is Recycling Also Not An Option Now?
The world is drowned with plastic waste. The effects are felt across several domains, including biodiversity, climate change, human health, and human rights. Needless to say, recycling is a good idea for this global crisis; until it’s done wrong, and the health impacts of plastic recycling in Turkey are the starkest evidence of this. According to a recent report, workers in Turkish recycling plants suffer serious health problems from the effects of harsh chemicals and air pollution.
Plastics include hazardous chemical ingredients that can have a negative impact on one’s health. The health of those who work in the sector and live close to recycling facilities is threatened by the discharge of these chemicals into the local environment.
79 % of all plastic manufactured has been disposed of in landfills, unofficial dumps, or the environment, while 12 % of it has been burned, and nine percent has been recycled.
Because toxic chemicals and particulates are discharged into the air during burning and incineration, these plastic waste disposal methods adversely affect both short- and long-term health.
Why is turkey becoming the dumping ground for plastic?
China has received garbage from several Global North countries for many years to recycle. However, the Chinese government outlawed the import of plastic trash in 2018, prompting exporting countries to scramble to find alternative outlets for their waste.
Since the Chinese government’s prohibition, Turkey has emerged as a significant market for EU plastic waste exports due to its closeness to the EU and close economic links with it. In 2020 and 2021, Turkey received around 50% of the plastic garbage produced by the 27 EU member states. Imports increased by more than 1,200 % between 2016 and 2020 and now amount to almost 450,000 metric tonnes annually.
Source: Plastic waste exports from EU member states to turkey by quantity (Kg), 2011-2021
As of now, Turkey’s two major recycling facilities are located in Adana and Istanbul. Most recycling facilities in urban areas are adjacent to homes, hospitals, clinics, schools, and parks.
This is against Turkish legislation, which mandates that facilities be kept a “healthy” distance from neighborhoods. Human Rights Watch also discovered that juvenile workers—some as young as nine years old—were employed in these sites, despite Turkish and international legislation forbidding them from doing so.
Recycling Practices in Turkey and the Resulting Health Consequences
The research claims that, in contrast to recycling methods in the US and many European nations, most Turkish facilities depended on manual labor rather than technical means of recycling plastic trash, contributing significantly to the harmful health impacts of plastic recycling in turkey.
The mechanical recycling method expedites the emission, discharge, and leaching of additives into the environment. In particular, the shredding and extrusion steps release pollutants into the immediate environment that pose serious health hazards.
The small-scale, emerging plastic recycling business is rife with labor abuse and potentially hazardous levels of chemical exposure for local populations.
When workers at the recycling facility and nearby residents breathe in toxic dust or fumes released during the recycling process, they are exposed to dangerous chemicals, endangering their health and increasing their risk of developing life-long health conditions like cancer and reproductive system issues.
Toxic compounds in plastics have various effects on different populations. The impact of toxic exposure on health is influenced by working in hazardous sectors and biological variables.
Let us investigate the various health impacts of plastic recycling in turkey on different subgroups.
1. Impact on Workers
Workplace exposure accounts for around 18% of adult-onset asthma and between 2% and 8% of cancer occurrences. Employees at plastic recycling plants are heavily exposed to harmful chemicals released during plastic recycling and long hours spent in close vicinity to high-risk activities unless they wear proper protective clothing and machinery has appropriate filtering systems. Occupational exposure to harmful substances violates employees’ right to health, even if symptoms or disorders develop over years or decades.
2. Health Impacts on Women
Hazardous exposure in women and pregnant women can lead to significant, life-long health concerns. Women have more body fat than males, making them more susceptible to accumulating lipophilic, harmful substances in their tissues. Women subjected to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as BPA, are more likely to develop polycystic ovarian syndrome and have recurrent miscarriages.
3. Health Impact on Children
Due to their fast growth, children are at high risk of experiencing more immediate health effects from contact with the exact amounts of environmental pollution as adults. Plastics can expose infants to hazardous substances through breast milk, baby formula, and breathing. Toxic exposure is dangerous for children because it interferes with brain development, hormone function, and other processes required to grow into healthy adults. Children have growing lungs and rapid breathing rates and frequently breathe through their lips, which may expose them to more air pollution than adults.
Although the Turkish government and responsible parties must enforce existing legislation to protect people from the harmful health impacts of plastic recycling in turkey, measures to counter or address the global human rights associated with the health impacts of plastic cannot be addressed simply by improving conditions in recycling facilities.
High demand for plastic recycling will almost certainly contribute significantly to human rights damages unless actions curb the manufacturing and usage of plastic items.