Garbage is one of our biggest problems. Even though the government is badmouthing the ‘90s, now we are craving those days. Every area of the country has become a garbage collection area. The garbage disposal units, their surroundings, the pavement, shopfronts, parks and even plateaus in the rural areas are full of garbage. 

Our waste disposal policy has never been so bad. Clearly, there is a government, municipalities and companies that let the amount of garbage increase. More garbage means more sales — in other words, this increase is the result of sales.

The truth is that governments and institutions are trying not to touch private companies. The article “Against Recycling” by Joshua Manson, translated beautifully by Tarkan Tufan, explains how capitalism’s waste problem has been reflected onto the consumer. Single-use products and packaging firms involved in green campaigns show us how producers are not “touched.”

Everybody’s working for more garbage 

In Turkey, we have a variety of waste. There is hazardous and non-hazardous industrial waste as well as domestic waste. There’s relatively little medical waste, but what Turkey does produce has hygiene problems. The non-hazardous waste is generally industrial and is categorized based on declarations. In 2017, exactly 15.1 million tons of non-hazardous waste was declared. We do not know about the amount of undeclared waste; we don’t really have any institutions that monitor this. The top five cities producing non-hazardous waste are Muğla, Kocaeli, İzmir, Mersin and Bursa. Coal ash and clinker ash are at the top of this category.

Hazardous waste is more interesting. While in 2009, some 15,664 companies declared hazardous waste, this figure became 63,241 in 2017. The amount of declared waste has risen from 786,400 tons to 1,425,000 tons. The top cities that produce hazardous waste are, in order, Istanbul, İzmir, Kocaeli, Bursa and Çanakkale.

In other words, the Marmara region is very dangerous in terms of waste. On the other hand, outside of the Marmara region, Izmir is a bad place when it comes to both hazardous and non-hazardous waste.

Table: Top 10 cities in Turkey producing the most hazardous and non-hazardous waste. Data from 2017, Ministry of Environment and Urbanization. 

We should add medical waste to this. According to medical waste statistics, as of the end of 2018, 89,454 tons of medical waste have been collected from 1,550 health institutions. 

The disposal lies 

Part of the medical waste was buried while another part was buried. Well, this is how they present it: “Some 92.3 percent of the collected medical waste has been sterilized and put into storage areas. 7.7 percent has been sent to burning facilities and disposed of.” This sentence means we have buried the waste in the ground and in the air. 

The situation is worse for hazardous waste. 210,000 tons of hazardous waste has been “disposed of” through burning and being buried in landfills. In a worse move, we have exported a portion of this hazardous material. The amount of exported hazardous waste in 2017 was 10,758 tons. A similar situation exists for non-hazardous waste also. The amount of non-hazardous waste has reached 100,848 tons. We have more than 110,000 tons of combined waste. 

We have such a bad waste disposal policy that we are creating danger. We’re burning and burying trash in the name of “disposal.”

These data show us that our state has a public policy of “not touching” producers. Waste is polluting the air through burning trash, the soil through burying trash, and the earth by exporting trash.

The transformation of the garbage barrel to container 

Do you remember the old trash drums? They would stand in an empty lot or at the corner of the street. Chickens and cats would roam around them. They were not elegant, but they had pride. With a volume of 159 liters, they were adequate for the entire street. Because they had previously been used for oil, they were already being recycled. In other words, you would remove the lid of the oil drum, paint it and start using it. They do not exist anymore in cities. 

Then, plastic waste bins entered our lives. They were plastic, they held 120 liters, and it was easier to empty them into the garbage truck. There were bigger ones used in certain places and at certain times, and now there are bins that are twice as big around.

Then galvanized waste containers appeared. They were an instant hit. Municipalities and the environment ministry held giant tenders for them. They were huge. They had space for 400 liters of trash and they were almost three times the size of the trash drum. There are even 800-liter versions of them. They would dent in a couple of years — the loading mechanism and lid would break down. Its best feature was that there was no worker needed. They were unloaded into garbage trucks with a dump mechanism. 

Now we have giant containers. They have a capacity of 2,500 or 3,500 liters. It is quite difficult to put your garbage in them. Scavengers cannot go through them. They occupy quite a lot of space on the pavement or road, or both. 

Those giant containers were no good for the cats, scavengers, or citizens, but were quite profitable for the giant companies that won huge tenders. 

Garbage 4.0, unmanned waste system 

Now, it is time for underground containers. These require minimum human labor — giant trucks and cranes do the job. You can call them Garbage 4.0. They are unmanned, unconscientious and a huge lie trying to cover up reality. These containers have a volume of 5,000 liters. One of them costs about 20,000 lira. It comes with a package: a huge crane truck, and the layoff of workers.

We were happier with the 159-liter garbage drums; that’s for sure. Then the system broke down with the addition of larger and larger containers. Now, with 5-ton underground containers we still cannot manage the city’s waste. The transformation of the garbage barrel tells us a lot. 

Who takes the garbage? 

According to OECD data, Turkey allocated 289 million dollars for waste management in 2008. Ever since, the country has developed and grown, right? Despite this, the money allocated for waste management fell to 147 million dollars in 2015. We have a government that does not want to manage waste and spend money on it. Burying trash is easy; the soil is free. For this reason, 90 percent of Turkey’s waste is buried. They cover this up with lies: “Instead of uncontrolled dumping, there are sanitary landfills now.” 

As a matter of fact, public policy works for private companies so that they can sell more goods with almost no responsibility concerning waste. Moreover, money is not allocated for policies to minimize this waste. In other words, public policy both contributes to the production of waste and fails to manage it at the same time. Actually, it even functions so that more is produced, consumed and buried underground. It is not only the government that is doing this, the opposition is also doing it. 

The goal of the municipality: to increase the amount of waste  

In 2015, Ankara’s Çankaya Municipality allocated 127 million lira for garbage collection and gave 90 million lira to the garbage collecting company. The municipality also bought 300 containers. Almost no steps were taken for recycling or waste reduction — just 852,00 lira was allocated for this. 

In 2018, the number of containers rose to 1,000, the funds given to subcontractors rose to 140.7 million lira, and the money allocated to garbage collection rose to 171 million lira. Money for recycling, on the other hand, has not increased — it has actually decreased to 801,000 liras. 

The 2020 budget is perfectly clear: they have stopped allocating money for recycling. It was not even one-thousandth of the budget anyway. The targets for 2020 are also amazing. The recycling target has been removed. The targeted amount of garbage collection was set as 510,000 tons. They have even put in their performance reports that “the amount of garbage collected will increase.” 

It hasn’t occurred to the municipality of Çankaya, which has 550 kilos of waste per person, to question this situation. 

Unbelievable, isn’t it? This is data from the municipality’s performance program. But if you stroll the Çankaya streets, you will see waste bags tied to trees, garbage containers lined up on roads, as well as plastic garbage bins. 

Waste lies 

Companies that want to sell their products rapidly adopt some waste policies that are just for show so that their profits remain the same. The public sector has attempts to educate the people when things get serious. 

The issue of waste is now obvious — it is a problem of companies selling more products and not taking responsibility for the products sold. The responsibility does not belong to the state or the municipality. There is an administration that works to exempt companies from waste management and contributes to that situation by failing to regulate. The only thing they know is to blame the people, and pollute the soil and the air. You can see that clearly whether you review the history of the garbage can or the reports issued by the ministry or municipalities. 

It is a tragic story that the 159-liter garbage barrel has turned into 5,000-liter giant containers that are not even ergonomic.