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  • Jodie Harburt

Zero Waste (A Glimmer of Hope in Turkey)

The cost of 25 kuruş per plastic bag ruling that came into effect as of January the 1st 2019 here in Turkey is a start towards sustainability. One that is just the tip of the iceberg but none the less a step towards transformation in the habits of consumers, stores and producers alike.

Asides from the plastic bag ruling the government has joined many countries in implementing a “Container Deposit Legislation” Producers will be charged a contribution towards recycling infrastructure per single-use-packaging item (plastic, glass, tin, cardboard). The positive effects of such recycling systems are evident worldwide. The Ministry for the Environment and Urbanisation states that here in Turkey we each use 440 bags per year, they intend to see this number reduced by 90% and initial statistics over the last week show that the use of bags has already dropped.

Let’s get something clear; “Zero waste” does not mean ‘Recycling’. It means that we don’t produce any waste. Zero!

Zero Waste means that just the minimum that we do produce is recycled in a highly effective manner, (including organic matter).

Zero Waste means:

REDUCE (avoid packaging and bags),

then RE-USE (use again and again)

and as the last resort RECYCLE!

Therefore, the most important step is to minimize the use and production of plastic bags and containers altogether and to facilitate a change in the habits of the population. This is the desired result of the new legislation.

I spoke with Sükrü Yıldırım of DISAN (a company that produces waste sorting machines) and he told me that the problem is that while plastic bags can be recycled, they are often too dirty (contaminated with organic matter) and even when conscious consumers separate them properly the quality of the plastic is lost during the recycle process.

Mr. Yıldırım pointed out that if waste is separated at its source then cost-effective recycling can be implemented so I asked him: “what happens if we evolve into a society that sorts our rubbish or no longer produces any, what will you do? (as a company who produces waste sorting machines)” His reply was exemplary “Then we will evolve too!” which is precisely the type of responsive and adaptive mindset that we must embrace to heal our fragile planet.

Worldwide attempts to clean up our mess are most often only about crisis management rather than deep solutions and many are proving ineffective. Machines that sweep the floating trash off the sea surface cannot deal with the submerged and sunken debris and nothing can take the micro-particles of plastic that have been found, not only in fish and animals but inside humans too. Plastic is in our food systems and the effects are only just becoming known to us; the plastic in us causes endocrine disruption with permanent effects on our health potentially causing forms of cancer and infertility that we will pass on for generations.

Many of us have become active and aware regarding plastic use and now prefer to buy and store foods in materials such as glass for health reasons but some recycling enthusiasts are finding solutions by turning plastic into everything from art pieces and jewellery to roads and building blocks, however none of these account for the fact that we really don’t want the seepage of endocrine disruptors into the biosphere and into our lives anymore!

I hear people (who are reluctant to have to bother carrying their own bags) ask why we don’t produce single-use bag alternatives. Already such bags are available (made of potato starch for instance). However, adopting these comes with a myriad of different problems, they are less durable yet only biodegradable when composted at industrial plants and mass production puts a strain on the ecosystem and the global food supply. Most importantly replacing the bags does not help us kick our single-use addiction.

The new legislation here in Turkey (and according to the many examples where countries have implemented this) will have two major effects:

  1. Reduce the amount of plastic that goes to landfill around the world.

  2. Change the detrimental habits of the consumer: we get used to carrying reusable bags and we become more aware of the waste problem and the environment.

Nationwide awareness is the key.

Even at the recent Istanbul International Environment Summit where Emine Erdoğan (First Lady wife of the President) spoke about Zero Waste, the staff and attendees were served juice and cakes all in single use composite packaging with plastic wrapped straws and hot drinks served in non recyclable paper cups AND to add insult to injury, the only Zero Waste food (apples) were on offer next to 'organic waste' designated bins but were full of all the non organic waste! It was a joke. I had considered writing a post just about the disappointment of the summit, but the upside is that it is a start, and though we won't achieve any of our goals if we think we can bypass the details at least a hint of awareness is glimmering through.

Walking around my neighbourhood I often collect rubbish, mostly plastic that is simply chucked on the street. This negligence towards our planet is an indication of a complete lack of awareness and connectivity between people and place. Place in this case means the whole planet and the biosphere in which we all live. Our planet Earth requires us to know that when we poison it, we are in fact poisoning ourselves. This is what in Turkish we call ‘duz mantik’ meaning straight forward logic. And indeed, that is what it is. If we want to be happy and to prosper the first place to start is by ensuring that we are taking care of our precious one and only home. If not, as Earth becomes poisoned with our laziness, we will find simply that we become poisoned too, our children and all our loved ones, the food that we eat, the beautiful valleys, mountains and the sea and our most treasured places and memories will all become a part of the toxic wasteland that our careless, consumer lifestyles have created.

So, don’t pay that small fee for a new plastic bag, carry your own reusable one with you instead.

And while you are at it carry your own reusable water bottle and coffee cup with you too!

Some Starter ZERO WASTE Tips:

1. Reuse all the plastic bags you have as many times as you can!

2. Buy or make cloth bags or string bags, prefer ones that are made from natural or recycled materials. Make light weight cloth bags using old pillow cases or sheets and use for buying all your fruit and vegetables*. I even use these for buying soft fruit like figs and strawberries, loose sold rice and pulses too. (Or ask your local tailor to sew them).

3. Ensure your bags are with you when you leave the house, put extra bags in your handbag, briefcase, jacket pocket or your car. Consider training your mind by not shopping unless you have the bags and then soon your habits will change.

4. Carry containers with you to buy meat, fish, cheese, butter and olives etc. (I use plastic or glass ones with plastic lids) Don’t let the shop keeper then wrap clingfilm around your container (this defeats the purpose!).

5. Be patient when shopping, everyone must get used to the new way, don’t rush others or allow yourself to be rushed, explain why you are using your own bags to share the information and your enthusiasm.

6. Take the next step and ensure you have a water container with you and a reusable portable cup if you like to drink take out coffee. That way you avoid using single-use plastic water bottles and the worst offender which is the misleading paper cups which have a plastic lining inside.

7. Love your planet a bit more by never ever buying those little packets of juice and flavoured milk etc. which come in containers with straws, neither of which can be recycled or reused.

8. Shop from stores that sell goods without packaging and that sell loose fruit and vegetables. Also buy spices, nuts, pulses and grains in bulk if possible.

"If we make just a little bit of effort, there are definitely a number of ways to purchase goods without packaging whatsoever, which is the ultimate goal of the zero waste movement."**

For more tips on how to live a Conscious and Zero Waste life follow me on:

Multitude of Ones: Blog, Facebook and Instagram.

Many thanks to Mr. Sükrü Yıldırım for his time and his visionary attitude.

** Quoted from and thanks also to Leyla Yvonne Ergil for her article in the Daily Sabah (which was based on and adapted from this post)

* Consider buying cloth produce bags from here ---

The Little Pebble in the River (on Instagram or here for Facebook, They are based in Köyceğiz Turkey and combine function with art using lovely lino prints on their bags. You can DM (PM) them for more info.

(Photo is nabbed from their Instagram

I have no affiliation)

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