Ecological danger awaits Istanbul

A power plant that will burn the city’s garbage and produce electricity is announced to be opening in Istanbul. If the facility opens, Istanbul will suffer serious ecological damage. Hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic gas will be emitted into the atmosphere each year, while tens of thousands of tons of fly ash will pollute the air.

While we have been discussing imported garbage for months, we haven’t been focusing on the essence of this issue. A ÇES, or power plant that will burn the city’s garbage and produce electricity is opening in Istanbul. It will be the largest plant in Europe. It’s officially called “Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB) Waste Incineration and Power Generation Facility.” Let’s call it Eyüp ÇES. It is being built in the Kısırmandıra locality of Eyüp, in northwest of Istanbul.

In 2012, an Ankara company received the approval of its Environmental Impact Assessment (ÇED) report for the “Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Waste Incineration and Energy Production Facility Project.” According to this report, a study was made according to which 3,099 tons of garbage per day were to be collected and burned in seven pilot districts of Istanbul (Kağıthane, Şişli, Beşiktaş, Beyoğlu, Fatih, Sarıyer and Eyüp) and 1,235 tons of garbage per day in five alternative districts (Sultangazi, Bayrampaşa, Gaziosmanpaşa, Başakşehir and Zeytinburnu). Based on 2010 data, more than 12 percent of this garbage should have been bags and plastic. After recycling, the remains would be burned at a power plant in the forest in Eyüp. Probably after those recyclable materials such as metal, glass and cardboard were separated, those which were not recyclable (we already know how bad a recycling system there is in the country) would be taken to this facility in bulk. Thus, 3,000 tons of garbage and possibly more than 400 tons of plastic and bags would be burned each day.

ÇED similarity with Akkuyu

There was nothing notable in the ÇED report. There was no reference made to the composition of the flue gas that would come out as a result of burning, nor the ash, etc. This report was even worse than the worst ÇED that has ever been issued. A giant garbage burning facility and a hollow ÇED report! However, once you take a look at the company that prepared the report, then you would see that it was the same company that prepared the “Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant Environmental Impact Assessment Report,” then you would surely grasp the situation.
A tender was held for Eyüp ÇES on November 25, 2015, and a deal was signed in partnership with Makyol-Hitachi, which undertook the project on September 11, 2017. We all know that Makyol was the number one contractor of İBB in 2017 and had undertaken projects worth 10 billion 665 million TL from the government up to that date. In November 2018, the decision to borrow a 340-million-euro foreign loan to build the facility was made in the İBB Assembly despite the objections of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) members.

After the elections, however, the new (CHP) administration sought credit for this project without thoroughly reviewing the issue and without taking into consideration that they had voted against the previous loan. In March 2020, a loan agreement was signed so that the project could be accelerated and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu announced the good news that the facility would open at the end of 2020.

Smoke-free incineration

As we said earlier that there was nothing noteworthy in the ÇED report, let’s try to figure out what they did not include in the report with a simple study. Based on a presentation of Istanbul Technical University (İTÜ) Department of Environmental Engineering, let us generate the information not provided in the report. However, please bear in mind that figures here might be different than the actual project.

This presentation provides information on how much flue gas, bottom ash and fly ash will emerge “as a result of thermal disposal of 1 ton of urban solid waste.” If we use this rate for Eyüp ÇES, we can estimate that 2,100 tons of flue gas will be emitted into the atmosphere, 75 tons of fly ash will be spread to the environment, approximately 250 tons of ash will be taken from the boiler base and poured into the storage area every day. Thus, the most toxic part of the garbage will mix into the soil and the air. Due to the lack of a recycling, deposit and waste policy, 1 million tons of garbage will be burned and 700,000 tons of flue gas, 25,000 tons of fly ash will be the share of Istanbul residents to inhale while and 250,000 tons of bottom ash will be buried in the ground.

Istanbul’s air space becomes a landfill

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), in 2016, amended the Electricity Market Law to accept municipal garbage as a source of renewable energy. Only 25 deputies voted against this amendment during the vote in parliament that day. In 2017, the deal for this facility was made and in 2020 the loan was found. Thus, the AKP created an economic model whereby garbage can be buried in the ground and shot up into the air we inhale. The İBB facilitated this incredible project with the 2020 loan, thereby strengthening the AKP’s hand.

If the facility opens, Istanbul will suffer serious ecological damage. Hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic gas will be emitted into the atmosphere each year, while tens of thousands of tons of fly ash will pollute the air. Thus, the air space of Istanbul will be a landfill.
If the facility opens, we as a country will suffer serious ecological devastation. It has been announced that the facility will open in June. In fact, it will definitely open as scheduled. Several objections to the EPK have been influential and they were forced to reduce the incentives given to such power plants beginning July 1, 2021. If this facility opens after July 1, Eyüp ÇES will receive 50 kurus per kilowatt hour, while if it opens earlier, it will receive 13.3 cents which is about 101 kurus. In other words, Istanbul residents will pay an exorbitant sum to this facility of İBB to burn their own garbage and inhale its toxin.

If a proper waste and energy policy could have been developed instead of investing in this facility, much more of the garbage could have been reduced and significant energy saving could have been achieved during the same period of time.

Waste policies

In 2017, Turkey imported 176,000 tons of plastic waste from the EU. In 2018, when shopping bags were no longer free, many environmentalists were happy about this. We also said that “there is actually no price for the bag, nature and society pay for the bag.” Nevertheless, a bag law was ratified in the parliament and in 2020 garbage imports increased to 698,000 tons.

In 2020, two important bills passed. The first is the Electricity Market Law, which categorizes LES (Tire-to-energy Power Plant), ÇES and OES (Power Plant from Forest Waste) as renewable energy. The other is the law about the Turkish Environment Agency, which has created a business model for garbage that generates money. With this law, garbage that would be profitable if recycled would be given to a capital group through the agency, while the unprofitable garbage would be burned and high renewable energy subsidies could be obtained from the state.

Nationalism for garbage

We always cite Sweden’s waste policies as an example and we are surprised that they even want to come to Turkey and take our waste. Why? Because importing garbage is not a problem and it is even a profitable business; the main problem is elsewhere.

The British monitor their own garbage and send a reporter to Adana to follow up on the garbage they have sent to Turkey. In a recent report, we read that they were following the garbage Germany sent to Turkey and that 400 containers of waste had disappeared. However, we don’t see anyone objecting to a huge facility where a million tons of garbage would be burned. Or anyone campaigning against it. Why is there only one article objecting to this project? This is so because there is some kind of a “garbage nationalism” where we don’t follow our own garbage, but we fight against someone else’s garbage.

In 2012, the environmental impact assessment (ÇED) report for the garbage incinerator of the same company that prepared Akkuyu's ÇED report was accepted without any questioning. Istanbul residents cannot remain silent to the burning of 1 million tons of garbage every year, spreading of hundreds of thousands of tons of fly gas and ash, and the toxic substances in it mixing in our atmosphere. Of course, if they knew about it.

Everybody would object to loans of billions of liras and to facilitating business for the company close to the government, if they knew the facts. They would oppose it if they knew that extra-expensive electricity would be sold to the people from this power plant, and eventually, it would again be the people paying for this project.