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Turkish plastic recycling market in deadlock–solution awaited on import waste ban

by Başak Ceylan - bceylan@chemorbis.com
by Merve Madakbaşı - mmadakbasi@chemorbis.com
  • 28/05/2021 (10:12)
The Ministry of Trade removed ethylene polymer imports from the list of "wastes whose import is subject to compliance inspection" and added to the list of "other wastes prohibited to import" in a communiqué published in the Official Gazette on May 18, 2021.

Ethylene polymer waste imports banned; other plastic wastes now harder to import

On the same date, a circular published by the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization made it obligatory for companies that received a waste import registration certificate to import plastic waste in 2021 to return their documents within 45 days and apply for a new document.

The Ministry has also obliged companies to submit a 3-year letter of guarantee, calculated as TRY100 per annual production in tons. At the same time, if it is determined that there is more than 1% of foreign matter present in the imported waste, the registration documents of the companies will be canceled and the said companies will not be able to obtain a waste importer registration certificate within the next 5 years.

Underlying reasons behind import ban

Turkey’s plastic waste imports has moved higher up on the public agenda, following the reports published by various non-governmental organizations, as well as the news in local and foreign media that Britain exports half of its waste to Turkey.

Speaking to ChemOrbis, participants of the recycling industry said that the public perception was misguided and that the industry was forced through a gridlock following the ban.

Initial reactions from recycling market

Recyclers stated that they were stunned by the decision and said they believed that they must import plastic waste from Europe due to the shortage of raw materials. Turkey has an estimated annual production capacity of 10 million tons of plastic products.

The recyclers were quick to point out that the immediate and longer-term impact of this amendment would be far-reaching.

“Turkish recyclers provide a competitive edge in the industry, and with this ban, the competitiveness will disappear,” a recycler based in Istanbul said and added that a loss of competitive advantage would result in price increases.

Potential impact on virgin polymer markets on agenda

Another recycler said, “The price of recycled PE waste per kilogram is almost half of the virgin raw material. If recyclers fail to operate under these conditions, virgin polymers and end-product prices will be impacted heavily.”

Players in the virgin polymer market reported that manufacturers generally use recycled raw materials by mixing them with virgin materials, particularly in film and pipe production. Therefore, the ban is forecast to push the virgin HDPE market higher in the medium term.

According to PAGDER data, Turkey’s plastic recycling industry imported 436,000 tons of scrap for $116 million in 2018. These wastes were converted into plastic raw materials domestically and then into finished products, bringing in an export revenue of around $770 million.

Negative impact of ban on economy inevitable

A recycler underlined the fact that the plastic recycling industry generates employment for nearly 300,000-350,000 people and added their employment will be threatened if this gridlock is not resolved.

Turkey’s raw material shortage has long been compensated by waste imports, largely due to the increasing demand abroad, market participants said. “Our country has taken meaningful steps in plastics recycling over the years and many industrialists have established impressive recycling capacities with the help of governmental incentives. The sector creates added value for the country and we believe that the sector as a whole cannot be held responsible for the actions of a few,” a recycler commented.

Industry representatives state that not only dozens of sectors will be affected by the regulation but Turkey’s circular economy goals could also be damaged if recycling facilities shut down. “The ban could cast a shadow on the EU’s exports of goods manufactured in line with the principles of a circular economy,” players said.

According to industry representatives, the plastic recycling industry currently has an annual production capacity of 850,000 tons. This is expected to reach 4.3 million tons in 2030, provided that the current growth rate is sustained.

Recyclers brace for difficulties in obtaining import license

The circular was a topic of discussion among Turkish recyclers. The letter of guarantee (for an amount of TRY100 per annual production in tons) that was made compulsory for registration certificate applications is expected to impact many producers financially. A recycler with an annual production capacity of 20,000 tons stated that they had to provide a letter of guarantee worth more than TRY2 million. “In this case, it is unlikely that we will import any material,” the recycler said.

“We use around 10-15% of recycled import plastic in our production but we decided not to import as it seems that it will be difficult to finance in the future,” a PET Flake producer said and added: “We may have to cancel our new investment.”

Recyclers in favour of regulation instead of blanket ban

However, most recyclers were hopeful that a solution to this challenge could be found through dialogue. “We are in touch with the officials and industry representatives, trying to work out a way to overcome this challenge,” a recycler said, urging increased scrutiny instead of a blanket ban.

Plastics recyclers are asking for a reconsideration of the decision and urging the officials to take the sector-generated employment and added value into consideration. “Companies that do not comply with law can be detected by inspecting their electricity, gas and water bills, as well as their labour input. Qualification control and the assessment of the import ratio to production volumes can also show whether a company is compliant with the law,” a recycler said, adding that regulations could overcome the negative impression in public.
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