The Hidden Dangers of Plastic Recycling: A Human Rights Perspective

As an expert in sustainable materials management, I have seen firsthand the positive impact that recycling can have on our environment and economy. However, plastic recycling is not without its consequences. While it may seem like a harmless and environmentally friendly practice, plastic recycling can actually pose a significant threat to human rights and the environment. Plastic products contain toxic chemical additives that can cause serious health problems. When these products are recycled, these toxins are released into the local environment, endangering the health of those who work in the industry and live near recycling facilities.

This is not only a violation of human rights, but also a failure to properly manage materials in a sustainable and responsible manner. Under international human rights law, the Turkish government has a responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens from harm caused by business activities such as plastic recycling. This includes protecting the right to health of workers at recycling facilities and nearby residents. To fulfill this obligation, the Turkish government must enforce existing laws and regulations to prevent the plastic recycling industry from causing harm. Unfortunately, many workers and residents near plastic recycling facilities are unaware of the potential health risks they face. None of the people interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported receiving information from doctors or medical personnel about exposure to toxic chemicals, such as dioxins or BPA, which are released during plastic recycling. The European Union has recognized the global impacts of plastic waste consumption and has taken steps to address this issue.

However, more needs to be done. The revision of the Waste Shipment Regulation presents an important opportunity for the EU to strengthen and extend protections to all countries, regardless of their status in the OECD. In Adana, Turkey, where many plastic recycling facilities are located, the majority of workers are Kurds or Syrian refugees. According to interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch, many of these workers are afraid to speak out against their employers for fear of retaliation. This is a clear violation of their human rights and must be addressed. Plastic waste exporters, including EU member states, also have a responsibility to ensure that their plastic waste exports do not contribute to harm human rights in Turkey and other importing countries.

This includes taking steps to properly manage and dispose of plastic waste in a way that does not harm the environment or human health. Human Rights Watch interviewed several people who lived less than 250 meters from plastic recycling facilities in Adana. Shockingly, none of the workers interviewed were aware that air quality was being monitored in their workplace. This lack of transparency and information is unacceptable. The EU has recognized the dangers of BPA, a toxic chemical commonly found in plastic products, and requires companies that supply BPA in the EU to label the substance. However, this is not enough.

The Ministry of Health must conduct health impact studies in neighborhoods near plastic recycling facilities and make community health data accessible and available. In addition, employers have a legal obligation to provide personal protective equipment to their employees. However, many workers in plastic recycling facilities do not receive this necessary protection. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security has stated that employers who fail to comply with these standards are subject to fines, but this is not enough. Employers must be held accountable for providing a safe working environment for their employees. It is also important to address the issue of child labor in the plastic recycling industry.

Human Rights Watch interviewed several children who had been working in these facilities since they were as young as 9 years old. This is a clear violation of their rights and must be stopped. Ultimately, the root of the problem lies in the use of toxic chemical additives in plastic products. As long as these additives are included, the recycling process will continue to pose a threat to human health and the environment. It is time for governments and businesses to take responsibility and find sustainable alternatives to these harmful chemicals.

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