• Reading Level 5
Science | Geography | Design & Technology | Citizenship | PSHE

Exposed! The great plastic recycling scandal

Should exporting plastic be illegal? Yesterday, Greenpeace revealed that UK plastic waste sent to Turkey for recycling is often set on fire, or abandoned by the roadside.  Imagine large piles of plastic stacked up several metres high. Then imagine this rubbish is on fire. Black, poisonousDestructive or harmful, something that threatens life. smoke billows into the sky, making it hard to breathe. As you walk along the road, you see huge bags of waste that are split open. Plastic packaging spills out onto the grass, the wind blowing some into a nearby river. It floats downstream towards a flock of birds, a thick plastic coating on the water's surface. In Turkey, you don't have to imagine such a scene. It's a reality. And shockingly, much of the plastic comes from the UK - Tesco carrier bags and Lucozade bottles shipped across Europe, before they are illegally dumped in their tonnes. Yesterday, GreenpeaceAn international campaigning organisation based in Amsterdam. Its aim is to  "ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity". shattered the eco-friendly image of recycling that many of us have. As part of their new report, the environmental group investigated 10 sites in southern Turkey where plastic had been discarded. They found packaging from UK supermarkets at every one. Last year, 210,000 tonnes of UK plastic was shipped to Turkey. That's about 21 plastic Eiffel Towers. Government adverts encourage us to recycle much of what we throw away. Every week, most of us carefully separate our rubbish into colour-coded bins, thinking we're doing our bit for the environment. But there's simply too much plastic for the UK to process. Every single day, the country sends three and a half Olympic swimming pools' worth of plastic to foreign countries for recycling. The UK throws away more plastic per person than almost any other nation on Earth, second only to the USA. Thanks to Greenpeace, we now know where much of it ends up. Turkey is not the only country to open their doors to the world's plastic. When China introduced its National Sword policy in 2018, Malaysia became the dumping ground of choice for many countries. CK Lee, an environmental activist in the country, told Greenpeace of the impact on people's health. Local residents had "breathing difficulties, difficulty sleeping, nausea", and felt seriously "unwell" after breathing in the toxic fumes from plastic waste burned in the open air. Recycling is not new: the JapaneseJapan is famous for its many centenarians, who number more than 85,000. In 1963 there were just 153. reused paper as early as the 11th Century. But syntheticAn artificial substance or material. It is made by humans using chemical processes, rather than occurring naturally.  plastics are complicated and expensive to recycle. Rather than build the right facilities, it is easier for governments to ship them elsewhere. That way, it becomes somebody else's problem. Should exporting plastic be illegal? Plastic inevitable Of course it should be, say some. When richer countries export to poorer countries, they treat the developing world like their personal rubbish dump. By making exports illegal, nations will be forced to take responsibility for their own waste. Last year, Malaysia sent back 150 shipping containers of illegally exported rubbish. A ban would stop ships from making the journey in the first place. It's not that simple, say others. Sure, a ban sounds good, but if we simply go on producing plastic as before, the damage to the environment continues. In 2018, the UK generated an estimated 5.2 million tonnes of plastic waste - enough plastic to fill WembleyThe stadium in north-west London where England play home games has been described as "the cathedral of football". stadium six times over. What matters, some argue, is not whether this waste is exported, but that it is dramatically reduced. KeywordsPoisonous - Destructive or harmful, something that threatens life.

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