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A former child worker has spoken out about the lingering health impact of working at a plastic recycling plant in Turkey – where EU states send nearly 500 metric tonnes of waste each year.

The waste picker, now 20, from the city of Adana in Turkey, told Human Rights Watch (HRW): “When I inhaled, it would feel like my lungs were squeezed and under pressure.

“I stopped working there two months ago, but I still have a problem with breathing.”

Plastic waste is shredded, washed, melted at high temperatures, and then turned into pellets in the recycling process. This process emits air pollutants and toxins.

Workers told HRW they experience acute respiratory problems, difficulties accessing medical care, and fear retaliation from facility owners if they complain to authorities.

The Turkish government fails to enforce laws and regulations that require strict licensing and regular, thorough inspections of recycling facilities and occupational health, HRW claims.

While it is difficult to know if the former child worker worked at a facility processing European waste, Greenpeace found illegally dumped and burned German plastic waste in a nearby area in Adana in 2021.

A Committee of the European Parliament voted today to ban plastic waste exports outside of the European Union.

Instead of processing and reducing their own waste, EU member states ship more than 1,000 metric tons of plastic waste each year to other countries for recycling. Nearly half of that plastic waste is sent to Turkey, where Human Rights Watch research found that plastic recycling facilities threaten the health of workers and nearby communities.

The Environment Committee of the European Parliament has voted for a ban on plastic waste exports outside the EU as part of its proposal to revise the EU Waste Shipment Regulation.

An HRC spokesperson added: “But for the proposed ban to become a reality, it is essential the European Parliament and EU member states, through the European Council, follow through and embrace the amendments adopted by the Committee.

“Ultimately, this will mean a commitment to reducing the production and consumption of plastic in the EU: a step that’s long overdue to protect people’s health and the environment.”

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recently called for a ban on the export of all plastic waste from the UK by 2027 to reduce the country’s contribution to global plastic waste pollution.

The ban should be part of a strategy to use less plastic, re-use more of it, and boost recycling, the committee said in a report.

An estimated 380 million tonnes of plastic are produced worldwide every year, according to the commitee. The enduring nature of plastic products – often designed for single use – has led to a major waste issue, particularly involving plastic packaging for consumer and industrial goods.

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