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Global Ideas

Turkey cleans up its waste-management act

Keen to boost its EU accession bid, Turkey is taking measures to tackle its waste problem: Landfill sites that emit high levels of greenhouse gases and pose a health risk to local communities.

A truck at a landfill

Global methane emissions from landfill are a climate issue

Turkey has a problem with waste.

It's not that the streets are strewn with mounds of uncollected garbage like in Naples, Italy. In fact, modern-looking garbage trucks do the rounds on a regular basis.

The trouble starts later – when the collectors take the waste to vast uncovered landfills on the outskirts of the cities where the garbage is simply left to rot.

The environment ministry hasn't ignored the problem. It drew up a master plan for 2007- 2009 based on the recognition that uncontrolled and unsafe waste disposal is an integral part of daily life in Turkey and poses a serious risk to the environment and to the health of the country's 70 million inhabitants.

Plastic bottles

Recycling is a growth industry in Turkey

Reform and practice

Government efforts to manage waste better include a reform of the Turkish waste industry.

The number of controlled landfill sites was raised to roughly 3000 - a steep increase on the 90 that existed in the 1990s. Now, there is approximately one sanitary landfill site per municipality. 

The reform was partly motivated by pressure both from the EU and the UN. On the one hand, Turkey is keen to comply with Brussels' demands, and on the other hand, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP ) has estimated that landfill sites are responsible for 3 to 5 percent of man-made greenhouse gases.

The reason for this is that the decomposition of waste in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

UNEP has called on Turkey and emerging economies all over the world to improve their waste disposal systems as a means of tackling climate change.

In 1999, the EU's executive introduced an ambitious landfill directive aimed at cutting carbon emissions.

It aims to cut biodegradable waste in landfills by two thirds on 1995 levels by 2016, by introducing stricter waste rules.   

For the time being, Turkey is not on track to meet this target.

Yet progress has been made: Along with the introduction of more sanitary landfills, waste separation, for example, has become more common.

According to the Turkish Statistics Office, this increases the scope for recycling and waste-energy recovery.

The latest figures show that in 2008, some 14 percent of waste deposited in controlled landfill sites is now recycled – especially paper, cardboard, plastics, rubber, glass and metal.

Blazing a trail in Denizli

The new waste plant in Denizli

Denizli is home to a pioneering waste disposal project

Turkey has yet to introduce wide-scale schemes to capture the methane released by landfill sites.

Ideally, a landfill gas collection system could collect the methane produced by the landfill waste and combust it to generate electricity.

A number of municipalities around the country are taking steps to start capturing and combusting landfill gas, and many of them have secured subsidies from the EU as well as the German government-owned development bank KfW.

Denizli in south-western Turkey is now home to a new waste disposal project where the methane gases produced are harnessed and rendered harmless in an incineration plant.

In this way, an average of 150,000 tones of CO2 equivalents will be saved annually. That amounts to around three million tonnes over the lifetime of the site, a substantial contribution to environmental and climate protection.

Not only locals benefit from being able to rely on an environmentally acceptable waste disposal system.

The new, controlled landfill site is a boon to another 13 communities in the area, home to around 120,000 people.

Author: Martin Schrader
Editor: Nathan Witkop

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