The Zero Waste project initiated by first lady Emine Erdoğan in 2017 has evolved into a nationwide campaign over the past four years. The recycling scheme added an extra TL 17 billion ($2.3 billion) to the Turkish economy with significant savings on tons of material that are normally thrown away every year.
Overall, Turkey saved 315 million kilowatts per hour (kph) of energy and 345 million cubic meters of water. The project helped fight climate change and helped the country prevent greenhouse gas emissions of up to 2 billion tons and saved 209 million trees from being cut down.
Figures also show that Turkey saved 50 million barrels of oil and 397 million tons of raw material by simply recycling materials, from paper to plastic.
The project received a wide response from the public and government agencies and in 2020, some 76,000 buildings, mainly state-run institutions and municipalities, switched to a “zero waste” model that involves recycling everything normally destined for dumpsters. Eventually, Turkey reached a recycling rate of 19%, up from 13% in 2017.
The country, among the world’s developing economies, pursues sustainable development goals with the help of this project. In a world where the solid waste amount is expected to reach 3.4 billion tons in 2050, recycling remains a key issue. Turkey itself will have an annual 38 million tons of household waste within the next two years. Organic waste comprises a majority of the household waste in the country, while paper waste accounts for 10% of the waste and plastic waste makes up 6%. Figures show that a large amount of waste can be recycled, used as raw material and entirely new materials. Unfortunately, Turkey has been dumping its waste carelessly for decades, recycling only gained popularity in the past decade.
The Zero Waste project, under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning, is expected to expand across the entire country by 2023, the centenary of the Republic of Turkey. Authorities plan to introduce the practice, whose most basic aspect is allocating separate bins for different kinds of waste, everywhere, from airports to bus stations, schools, shopping malls, hospitals and factories among other facilities. The ultimate goal is to bring the recycling rate to 35% in the next two years. This goal also means new employment for 100,000 people in recycling, annual revenue of TL 20 billion ($2.7 billion) and a zero-waste system implemented in 400,000 buildings across the country.
In recent years, Turkey has started prioritizing waste management over concerns of rising environmental damage, with municipalities responsible for garbage collection upgrading their collection systems. Last month, Parliament approved a bill to establish an environmental agency that will coordinate recycling efforts.
Though numbers may appear small, it does mean a lot for a country where rapid urban development and changing climate remain a threat. Saving 1 ton of paper from going waste is equal to saving 17 trees from being chopped down for the paper and packaging industry. Similarly, food saved from going into dumpsters can be recycled as fertilizer for plants.
The initiative also includes a “Blue” chapter which mainly involves saving bodies of water from pollution by raising public awareness and collective cleaning efforts.