How to use open-data to track plastic pollution from UK waste exports

British plastic waste keeps being exported to third countries. Much of it ends unrecycled, badly incinerated, on foreign landfills, burned in the open or blown into the ocean? Here is why and how we must track Britain’s responsibility in polluting foreign soil.

Campaigner found British plastic waste exports on the coastline of Adana province, Turkey. A recent study by WWF finds that the Cilician coastline (above) suffers more plastic pollution than any other stretch of the Mediterranean (Sentinel 2 data, 2021 — Tracking ocean plastic in Turkey’s Adana province, where Greenpeace visited, with open-source satellite Sentinel 2 ‘Ocean Plastic Detector Prototype Script’, image: TJ)
Seismic shift: In January, UK exports to Malaysia suddenly shrunk to a mere trickle. Waste recycling exports to OECD countries, which includes Turkey, exploded
Locations Greenpeace visited for its Trashed report (all in the Adana province)

Satellite analysis

Location (37.032778, 35.161389)
Development of a waste site in Turkey in 2020 where campaigners found British plastic waste.
Location (36.972222, 35.446111

Britain’s new plastic waste dilemma

Better tracking

GPS trackers in plastic waste

A viable link to ocean plastic in the region [Turkey]

The location (36.681667, 35.066944) where Greenpeace found foreign plastic waste coincides with a location troubled with ocean plastic observed from space (Sentinel 2 images, 2021). A recent study by WWF found that the Cilician coastline (the stretch south of Adana) suffers more plastic pollution than any other stretch of the Mediterranean.
Monthly changes in ocean plastic detected by the ‘Ocean Plastic Detector Prototype Script’
The Adana region has been particularly plagued by plastic pollution, Greenpeace writes. The River Seyhan, which runs through the centre of Adana, and the River Ceyhan, which runs to its southeast, are collectively responsible for 9% of the plastic pollution entering the Mediterranean each year — second only to the Nile.55
Overview of a plastic-polluted coastline, south of the city of Adana (Author of the Sentinel 2 script: Bence Mélykúti, a graduate from Oxford University. Notes: The script is adapted to Sentinel-2 Level-1C images. It separates land from water using the Normalised Difference Water Index (NDWI). It displays land in natural colour. On the water, it should display the presence of plastic in the water on a dark blue/yellow scale, with dark blue representing no contamination. Mélykúti’s prototype does not work reliably but it is a proof of principle in an emerging and pressing area with current, active research. It probably works best, where it gives the least false positives, around Lesbos, Greece, where most data originated from.)

Investigative journalist with a technical edge, interested in open source investigations, satellite imgs, R, python, AI, data journalism and injustice