Children as young as nine are working in plastic waste recycling centres in Turkey, putting them at risk of serious and lifelong health conditions, according to Human Rights Watch.
Workers including children, and people living in homes located “dangerously close” to the centres, told researchers they were suffering from respiratory problems, severe headaches and skin ailments.
In a new report, HRW accuses the Turkish government of exacerbating the health and environmental impact on the workers by failing to enforce laws that require strict licensing and regular inspections of recycling centres.
The EU, the biggest plastic waste exporter to Turkey between 2017 and 2021, and the UK, the largest single plastic exporter during the same period, were also contributing “significantly” to health and environmental rights abuses in Turkey, the report said.
After China banned plastic waste imports in 2018, the EU’s plastic waste exports to Turkey skyrocketed by 1,200% from 38,804 tonnes to 446,432 tonnes in 2021. In 2021 the UK exported 122,898 tonnes of plastic waste to the country, a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Krista Shennum, Gruber fellow at HRW and the report’s lead researcher, said: “The government of Turkey is failing to implement its laws. It has regulations to protect people and the environment but a lack of enforcement is increasing people’s risk of serious lifelong health conditions.
“Europe’s wealthiest countries are sending their trash to Turkey, consigning some of Turkey’s most vulnerable communities, including children, refugees and migrants, to serious environmental and health risks,” she said.
“We call on the UK, the EU and other countries to manage their own waste domestically rather than exporting it to Turkey, where it is causing human health and human rights harms.”