Trash, waste, rubbish … when discussing this month's topic with a friend we could not help ourselves thinking that this article must necessarily result in cliches: Side boards overloaded with rubbish; empty bottles and leftovers in the streets, plastics, paper and other industrial waste in the backyards … Is it really like that in our city?
By Kristina Kamp
Wednesday, April 20. 2011
Sure, there are green yards where you cannot properly differentiate flowers and plastic bags anymore. True, the picture of a trash bin – completely empty – peeking out of a well filled garbage dump. And yes, I indeed saw people, which instead of bringing their rubbish down to the street bins, prefer throwing them from their windows into the roughly thereabout container's direction.
And it happened not only once to me that I saw a German tourist group, standing disgusted in front of a scad of street rubbish and taking this grateful as a starting point to discuss Turkey's chances for an eventual accession to the European Union.
But let's be fair! What to expect from a city with a population of 13 million? A rapidly developing metropolis at that.
According to the city's responsible Company for Environment Protection and Waste (ISTAC), the city's daily production of solid waste is about 14,000 tons. This means landfilling more than 7 million kilograms of organic material every day.
Scary numbers, right? But let's look beyond our own nose: The European Union's statistics bureau Eurostat, in an international survey of 2007 municipal solid waste numbers found that Danes generated the most trash per capita in 2007, with 801 kilograms per resident. Second place goes to Ireland, with 786 kg per person. The least-wasteful (in a sense, more below) are Slovakia and the Czech Republic with 301 and 296 kilograms per capita. On average, an E.U. resident tosses about 522 kilograms per person. Turkey with 434 kg lies therewith at rank 23 of the 30 countries included in the survey.
Or, more illustrative: A daily amount of 1,1 kilogram of waste per person is produced in Istanbul. To compare: Berlin lies currently at 1,6 kg per capita, New York at 2, 0 kg.
Indeed, the handling of waste production in Istanbul appears not to be so bad. Whereas in the past 'open dumping' practices led to huge problems in terms of environmental pollution, things changed in the 90ies. The 'Solid-Waste Control Regulation' was published in March 1991 and was continuously improved through several increments in the following years.
Based on three fundamental principles providing guidance on waste management: the disposal of waste without causing environmental damage, the recovery of waste and the reduced production of waste, today such regulations indeed form today a respectable body of laws for handling the waste problem.
Almost all types of plastic, glass, paper and metals from MSW can be recycled profitably in Istanbul, more and more effort is put on separating waste at the source, as well as technologies are continuously elaborated to biogas from the city's two landfills, one the European side in Odayeri, one in Asian Komurcuoda.
Sure, more can always be done, but not too much complains goes into the direction of the authorities, I'd say.
The problem, for my point of view, is located different and can be probably labeled best with terms like 'throwaway society' or 'consumption culture'. As probably everywhere in the world – Germany for one is not different – the slogan is: Spend money! Buying things, it seems to me, has a huge value here. 'Kampanya, Kampanya! Indirim!' (Campaign, Campaign! For sale!) are the omnipresent slogans – at every shop, in every newspaper, throughout the whole year. Clothes, cars, mobile phones, house ware – you can never have enough of something! The cheaper the more, the more the better. 'Make a bargain!' To me that seems to be the average middle class Istanbulian's favorite sport.
Indeed, it is possible to extract a relation among the socioeconomic level of the residents and the waste production of the districts. Sultanbeyli has the lowest socioeconomic level and it produces the lowest amount of solid waste, 0.7 kg/day per capita. Interestingly, it was the economic crisis in particular which struck the country in 2001 and decreased the overall waste-production remarkably for a certain amount of time.
So, what's the outcome? Economic development against environmental pollution? Yes. In fact, yes. How to solve this dilemma? Discussing that would probably fill some more pages ..
PS: Most of the information on Istanbul's waste handling practices is taken from teh follwong article: Kanat, Gurdal (2010): Municipal solid-waste management in Istanbul. In: Waste Management 30, pp: 1737–1745.