Plastic waste is a very important resource that has the potential to benefit Turkey if collected properly, according to the head of the country's Chamber of Environmental Engineers.
"As Turkey is a country that imports oil, plastic waste is a very important resource. Collecting this waste as we should, could actually enrich Turkey [financially]," Baran Bozoğlu, also a former board member of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (UCTEA), told Anadolu Agency (AA) in an exclusive interview. With the Environment and Urbanization Ministry officially announcing Turkey's Zero Waste Management System regulations, Bozoğlu said this is a significant step toward stemming Turkey's waste problem.
"Back in 1995, we were generating 17 million tons of domestic waste annually, but by 2015, this reached 32 million tons, and is estimated to reach 38 million tons by 2023," he said. "In our country, 55.5% of domestic waste is organic material, 10% is paper and cardboard, 6% is plastic, 4% is glass, 2% is metal and the remainder is other waste products."
Waste collection issues
"Turkey is able to collect only 1% of its waste. As long as we can't collect our waste separately, this waste becomes contaminated and worthless as well as poor in quality," he said, adding the new regulations will address this problem.
"Due to the lack of adequate collection infrastructure, Turkey buries 90% of its total [unprocessed] waste. We're only able to recycle 10%, which is a very low rate," he said, citing reports published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
In addition, he said, China's stricter controls on taking in waste from Western countries have resulted in more of this processed waste being imported by Turkey for recycling.
"The amount of imported plastic waste in 2016 was nearly 160,000 tons, while in 2017, it rose to over 261,000 tons, and last year it leaped to 440,000 tons," he said.
Noting that Turkey has seen similar measures before, such as packaging waste regulations in 2017, he suggested that in order to make the new regulations work in practice, they need to be detailed as well as spell out how the money from waste will be spent.
Bozoğlu said street waste collectors - also mentioned in the regulation - are an important waste management issue, as unrecorded collection hurts the process of waste management.
"The problem of managing packaging waste can't be solved without solving the problem of street waste collectors in Turkey. These people need to be integrated into the system," he stressed. He said this problem needs to be addressed by local city councils taking concrete steps to find a permanent solution.
Waste fueling climate change
Bozoğlu underlined that there is strong relationship between waste and climate change.
"Waste landfills lead to soil erosion, when the waste interacts with nature and causes both air pollution and water pollution due to methane gas production."
To end this vicious cycle, he proposed that both consumption and waste be reduced, while reuse and recycling should be stepped up.
"If we produce less waste, we reduce consumption. If we reduce consumption, we use less energy, and if we use less energy, we reduce the emissions which cause greenhouse gasses," he said.
The amount of global domestic waste, which is currently 1.3 billion tons, is expected to rise to 2.2 billion tons by 2025, and annual waste storage costs of $205 billion are expected to reach $375 billion the same year, according to Word Bank figures, said Bozoglu.
According to the U.N., a reduction of 15% to 20% in worldwide greenhouse gases emissions could be achieved through sustainable waste management.
Turkey's Zero Waste Management System regulation, which was published on June 12 in the Official Gazette, aims to reduce the volume of non-recyclable waste as well as hold public institutions, organizations and city governments with populations of more than 250,000 responsible for waste management by 2020.