Kocaeli Metropolitan Municipality organized the Zero Waste Festival on Oct. 14-16 to raise awareness about the importance of making the world a more livable place at a time when the natural balance of the ecosystem is being disturbed. The Zero Waste Festival, the most comprehensive transformation campaign at the level of local governments in Türkiye, was held under the theme "More world with less."
Launched in 2017 by the Ministry of Environment, Urban Planning and Climate Change under the patronage of first lady Emine Erdoğan, the Zero Waste Project has led Türkiye's fight against climate change. The initiative primarily aims to bring the country in line with sustainable development principles, prevent uncontrolled waste and leave a "cleaner, developed" country to future generations, according to the ministry. It has slowly but steadily gained support from various sectors since 2017. First lady Erdoğan, who led the creation and spread of zero waste awareness, received the "Climate and Development Leadership Award" given for the first time by the World Bank for her efforts.
The first lady, who was invited to the event but could not attend since she was ill, expressed her feelings in a letter she wrote to the festival. Noting that local governments are important actors in the spread of the Zero Waste Project, Erdoğan said, “In this sense, the activities carried out by our Kocaeli Metropolitan Municipality with the sensitivity they show in environmental issues are admirable."
In the letter read on the opening day of the festival, first lady Erdoğan stated: "Zero waste is an act of kindness that grows every day and benefits all humanity by adding together the small changes in your individual lives. It is in our hands to be the solution center of a big global problem by organizing our daily lives with better choices. I believe that the Kocaeli Zero Waste Festival will be a pioneer in raising strong environmental awareness."
Murat Kurum, minister of environment, urbanization and climate change, also attended the festival. In his speech, he said, “As of the 18th century, industrialization has radically changed the country's economies and all over the world. It also deeply affected the structure of cities, human life and natural life. We need to build a new living culture for the whole world. We must make a zero waste lifestyle."
Stating that launching the Zero Waste Project will serve as an antidote in the cities that host more than half of the world's population, Minister Kurum said, "We must join hands, cooperate and be in great solidarity to spread zero waste practices that will contribute to a healthy and peaceful life in all our cities. We have to make it a way of life."
For their part, Kocaeli Metropolitan Mayor Tahir Büyükakın drew attention to the rapid destruction of natural resources as a result of the rapid consumption cycles created by man and addressed the danger the world is in. "We use our world's resources as if we own 1.7 times the amount. If the world population is to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, as predicted, we will need a world three times larger to sustain our current production and consumption habits. We extract raw materials, transform them into products, and generally dispose of products as non-recyclable waste after use or consumption. What is the result of this? One-third of the food produced each year, that is, 1.3 billion tons of food, is thrown away. At least 25%-30% of the fruit and vegetables produced in Türkiye go to waste before they reach the table. Just plugged but unused electric plugs consume 5% of the total electricity in Türkiye. Around 15 million tons of clothes are discarded every year," the mayor warned.
Speaking about the purpose of the Zero Waste Festival, Mayor Büyükakın said that our planet is under increasing pressure due to the concept of unsustainable consumption as he warned of its palpable effects. "Today, environmentally friendly policies are on the agenda of the whole world, but the main power lies in changing our individual consumption habits. Türkiye's first and most comprehensive Zero Waste Festival was built on exactly this understanding. With the main theme of 'Transform Your World,' we aim to mobilize the power of individuals on zero waste and encourage them to participate in this change and mobilization voluntarily in order to ensure this change for the future of our country and our world. As always, we will put forth all our efforts to bring the suggestions and projects put forward at the festival into practice. Because a happy country is a country with a strong economy, a peaceful country is a country where its streets can be walked on, a smart country is an accessible country for everyone, from the elderly to the young, and most importantly, a happy country is a clean country with its air, water, soil and sea cleaned. Therefore, I am waiting for all our compatriots from Kocaeli to attend the Zero Waste Festival, which will be one of the important cornerstones for Kocaeli to become a happy city," Büyükakın further said.
Stating that they have been working with the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Türkiye (TÜBITAK) on this issue for years, Büyükakın said: "When we presented it to them, they agreed to actively work on this project quickly. Then, our esteemed president contributed to our city with the required budget of $120 million. On behalf of my city, I would like to thank our minister and our president."
Sadiye Karabulut, head of the Circular Economy and Waste Management Department at the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change shared that the recovery rate of municipal waste has increased to 27.2% from 13%. "Our target is to increase it to 35% and 60%," she said.
Burçak Yüksel, head of the Monitoring and Evaluation Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, said: "It is foreseen that the use of chemical pesticides will be reduced by 50% until 2030. At the same time, nutrient losses will be reduced by 50% without any loss in soil fertility and the use of chemical fertilizers is expected to be reduced by up to 20%."
With the slogan of "Daha Azıyla Daha Çok Dünya" ("More world with less"), the Kocaeli Metropolitan Zero Waste Festival aims to mobilize individuals for the future of the country and the world. To ensure this change and encourage the public to participate, the waste approach and circular economy were discussed from business, public and academic perspectives. Beyond that, everyone from children to the elderly had the chance to experience the zero waste perspective through workshops explaining how important a waste-free life is for the future of the country and our world.
The entire festival is based on circular economy principles, namely "reduce, reuse and recycle." For this purpose, the ticket for the festival was made from recycled waste. Also, people who wanted to participate in workshops, shows and panels were encouraged to bring textiles, electronics and plastic to recycle.
The events kicked off on Oct. 15, with more than 80 upcycling workshops and nine waste-free product exhibitions held in 34 different areas over two days. In addition to these workshops, the festival hosted many names and artists working on zero waste.
Sessions were held with important names on advertising and consumer culture. Within the framework of the Zero Waste Festival, a zero waste communication competition was organized for high school students, with awards distributed on the final day of the festival.