FEATURE: Slow recycler Turkey seeks better uses for its trash

AFP, ISTANBUL, Turkey

Mon, Dec 10, 2018 - Page 5

Tulay Gercek stood in front of a vending machine at a busy Istanbul metro station, but instead of putting coins into a slot, she crammed plastic bottles into a hole.

Every bottle or can Gercek placed in the machine gave extra credit on her Istanbul Card — the universal ticket for using public transport in the city — in a pilot project by the municipality to promote recycling.

“I’m bringing plastic bottles every day,” she said at Sishane station, where she had brought a large bag of bottles and cans.

“In the past I used to throw them into the bin. This is a very good project. There should be more,” she said. “I believe it will help raise public awareness a little bit.”

The machines are in place at three metro stations in Turkey’s megacity and officials hope to expand to more.

It is so far a relatively rare step in a country of more than 80 million people with a notoriously bad record on recycling and waste.

Advocates have said this must change fast and there are signs, albeit tentative, that the authorities are starting to understand the need to change profligate habits.

Turkey ranks 108th with a score of 52.96 in the 2018 Environmental Performance Index, produced by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, that analyzes the environmental performance of 180 nations.

Top of the chart is Switzerland, with a score of 87.42, indicating a strong showing across most issues, especially climate, energy and air pollution.

Oya Guzel, of the Copune Sahip Cik (“Mind Your Waste”) foundation, said Turkey was producing about 31 million tonnes of waste annually, out of which 11 percent was recycled.

“We are polluting the soil and the environment with plastics, metals and glass which remain in the natural environment for years,” she told reporters.

“We have a target of 35 percent [of all waste to be recycled] by five years from now, which is also low, but we believe progress can be made” in that time, she said.

Guzel said it was consumers in the end who have to decide what is recyclable.

“We could turn it into raw material, or throw away litter and make it trash,” she said, urging consumers to give up on disposable materials. “We use a plastic bag for an average time of 12 minutes. It becomes trash 12 minutes later.”

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality told reporters that of the non-recycled waste, 61 percent was burned to produce electricity and the remaining 28 percent buried with no use.

Green policies do not appear as yet to be a major vote winner in Turkey, but there are signs that the ruling Justice and Development Party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is paying some attention to the issue.

Turkish Minister for Environment and Urbanization Murat Kurum said that there would be a compulsory charge for plastic bags from next month, bringing Turkey into line with other European countries.

That would be a revolution in a country that uses plastic bags massively.

Every Turkish citizen on average uses 440 bags a year, Kurum said, adding that the aim was to reduce this to 40 by 2025.

The recycling campaign is also strongly backed by Erdogan’s wife, Emine, who said at a conference on zero waste that the target was a “more liveable environment” and a “stronger economy by classifying the waste at its source and recycling.”

She said Erdogan’s presidential palace was leading the way, with its staff trained in how to recycle waste on site.

“We have not had garbage trucks at the presidential complex for a long time,” she said.

At a sorting facility on the outskirts of Istanbul, organic waste is separated, processed and used as fertilizer in parks and gardens throughout the city, while non-organic materials, such as glass, plastics and metals, are recycled.

However, Ibrahim Halil Turkeri, the city’s recycling chief, said that “greater responsibility falls to individuals.”

“If the waste is classified at its source, cleaner waste will reach our facility and factories, and they will have better value as secondary raw materials, and all will have been recycled,” he said.

Ahmet Hamdi Zembil, environment engineer at waste management company ISTAC, said gas from burning organic waste can be transformed into electricity.

However, he added that classifying at source was crucial so that synthetic waste was not mixed in.

“We have disposed of 7 million tonnes of waste here over the past year and produced 400 million kilowatt-hours of electricity,” he said.

Back in Sishane, Gercek slotted her plastic bottles into the machine, realizing to her chagrin that only 0.03 liras are given for each can or bottle, meaning that she would need to recycle 87 cans or bottles for a single free trip that normally costs 2.6 liras (US$0.50).

“But still, it is a start. I believe this system will get better,” she said.