625 kilograms of plastic recycling has been dumped at Downing Street this morning, the same volume that the UK exports every 30 seconds. A figure of the Prime Minister in a Spitting Image-style mask was also at the scene where a tipper truck reading ‘Stop plastic exports’ offloaded the plastic, and Westminster road name signs were rebranded as ‘Wasteminster’.
The intervention by Greenpeace comes as the Turkish government announced a U-turn on its decision to restrict imports of most types of plastic, raising the prospect of more UK recycling ending up illegally dumped or burned in Turkey.
The UK exported 688,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste in 2020 which equates to an average of 1.8 million kilograms every day or 625 kilograms every 30 seconds. Despite it being illegal to export plastic waste from the UK unless it is recycled or incinerated safely, the UK still exports plastic to countries like Turkey where it ends up being dumped and burned in the open air. More than half the plastic waste the government counts as recycled is actually sent overseas.
Nina Schrank, senior plastics campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “We hope this pile of plastic helps the government to not only visualise the huge volume of plastic waste we export, but also to understand what it feels like to have waste dumped on your doorstep. Our carefully washed and sorted plastic is sent overseas, the majority to countries with very low recycling rates, where it is being dumped and burned. It is illegal for the UK government to export our waste if it isn’t being recycled or incinerated. This is causing an environmental crisis and a health crisis for local people. It has to stop.”
Megan Randles, political campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “It’s concerning that the Turkish government succumbed to industry lobbying and postponed their ban on plastic waste imports. UK plastic sent to Turkey is being dumped and burned, with serious environmental and social consequences for local people. With the Turkish government reportedly stalling on their own restrictions, the UK government must urgently ban all plastic waste exports and stop our plastic mess impacting other countries. We also need legislation to make UK companies reduce the amount of plastic they produce in the first place.”
“We rebranded Westminster ‘Wasteminster’ to show the government they must urgently take responsibility for our plastic waste. We need a complete ban on all plastic waste exports and legislation to make sure companies reduce the amount of plastic they produce. So far the Prime Minister is only promising to ban exports to some countries, but there can be no exceptions. Today’s installation at Westminster is a message to the government that it’s time to act without delay.”
A recent Greenpeace investigation revealed shocking images of UK grocery packaging in piles of burning and smoking plastic in southern Turkey, three thousand kilometres away from the shops where the products were sold. Following the investigation, the Ministry of Environment in Turkey announced that they would restrict imports of certain types of plastic from 2 July. However, over the weekend, the Turkish government was reported to have done a U-turn on the plastic imports ban following pressure from the plastics industry, according to news reports.