In Kartepe, an industrial city in the northwest of the country, one of these factories was closed in December by the authorities after three fires broke out in less than a month.
One of them lasted more than 50 hours, giving the stored plastics time to expand a toxic black smoke in this region nestled between the Marmara Sea and the mountains.
“We don’t want our lakes and our springs to be polluted,” says Beyhan Korkmaz, an environmental activist from the city. “Will we have to wear masks?”
Last year in Turkey there has been a fire every three days in plastic waste treatment centers: there were 33 in 2019, 65 in 2020 and 121 in 2021, according to Sedat Gündogdu, a specialist pollution researcher at the Cukurova University of Adana (south ).
After China banned its import in 2018, Turkey has become the first European importer of European plastic waste, ahead of Malaysia.
In 2021, about 520,000 tons have arrived in the country, adding to the 4 to 6 million tons generated each year by the 84 million Turks, according to data from the Turkish branch of Greenpeace.
“The problem is not importing plastic from Europe, but importing non-recyclable plastics,” says Baris Calli, Professor of Environment at Marmara University (Istanbul), who believes that “most of these fires are not a coincidence.”
According to him, only 20 to 30% of imported plastic waste is recyclable. “The waste must be sent to incineration plants, but this has a cost, and that is why some companies try to find an easy way to get rid of it.”
In a report published in August 2020, the international police organization Interpol was concerned about the “increase in landfill fires and illegal waste in Europe and Asia” and specifically cites Turkey.
Since October 2021, a rule provides for the withdrawal of the operating authorization from any company in the sector recognized guilty of voluntary fire.
Asked by AFP about the number of sanctioned companies, the Turkish Environment Ministry and the vice president of the waste and recycling branch of the Union of Turkish Chambers of Commerce (Tobb), did not give an answer.
“Perhaps the ministry does not want to” act, suggests Baris Calli, for whom “the lobby of the plastics industry has been strengthened” in recent years in Turkey.
According to the Turkish recycling association (Gekader), the plastic waste sector generates 1 billion dollars per year and employs 350,000 people in 1,300 companies.
“Just a ray of sunshine”
In her office located above a Kartepe plant, where plastics are sorted before being legally recycled or incinerated, Aylin Citakli denies the accusations of arson.
“I don’t think so,” says the environmental manager of the selection center. “They are easily flammable materials, anything can cause a fire, just a ray of sunlight.”
Faced with the scandal caused by the publication of images of waste from Europe, dumped in ditches or rivers, Turkey announced in May 2021 a ban on importing plastic waste.
But he rescinded the ban a week after it went into effect.
In Kartepe, Beyhan Korkmaz is concerned about this setback, as well as about the future of his region, where he was born and has lived for 41 years.
The activist cites the example of Dilovasi, a city 40 km away that is home to numerous chemical and metallurgical factories, and where scientists have detected abnormally high cancer rates. “We don’t want to end up like them,” she says.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.