In a single hour, a total of 2.5 million plastic bottles are discarded by Americans alone, and it takes about 500 years for each of those bottles to biodegrade. Every year about 6 billion kg of garbage - mostly plastic - is cast into the oceans, and thousands of sea creatures die as a result of eating plastic bags that resemble jellyfish mistakenly.
Particularly in recent years, due to various effects of global climate change, we are witnessing dramatic events that can have a major impact on the destiny of the entire world such as melting glaciers, extinction of certain land and sea creatures as well as disruptions in food chain.
Consequently, the concept of recycling has gained ever increasing significance in recent years. Regardless of the wider sense of the word, recycling in its simplest form indicates the act of subjecting used paper, glass and plastic to certain physical and chemical processes in order to obtain raw material with the aim of utilizing it in production once again.
Recycling has always had a notable place in the history of mankind because of environmental and economic reasons. The fact that people in ancient times used discarded swords and pots as well as scrap metal to make coins and household goods demonstrates clearly how far back recycling practice actually dates back. Since virgin raw materials were hard to come by in those ages, our ancestors had to use and re-use the same material over and over again. Similar practices were observed during the Second World War as well; as financial constraints resulted in limited raw material supply, people were forced to search for recyclable materials and objects. They channelled their domestic waste and dispensable household metal objects to the industry for re-use.
And today, with changing life conditions, developments in technology and the growth of urban populations, recycling has gained larger significance than ever before. A number of countries have emphasised its importance to their people and have taken major steps in that direction. In fact, several developed and prosperous countries have laws and regulations governing recycling specifically.
People living in almost any country in Europe have to classify their waste for recycling if they do not want to face severe fines. Moreover, they have to pay for plastic shopping bags and gift wraps. For instance, the levy imposed on plastic bags given at supermarkets and large retailers in the UK led to a dramatic reduction of 90%. The use of all disposable cups, plates, forks etc. is to be banned in France unless they are made of biological materials with a new law that is to come into effect in 2020.
In addition to such restrictions and bans, several industrialized countries are setting up their own recycling systems. For instance, Sweden is purchasing garbage and using it for energy production and heating through recycling.
Our developing country Turkey is rather slow in terms of recycling compared to some other countries. Turkey produces a total of 31 million tons of waste annually. However, only 2 million tons of that waste was recycled in 2016.
While we have a rather low score of recycling, our awareness on the matter is rapidly increasing. Our recycling rate rose from 37% in 2010 to 61% in 2014. Furthermore, about 1000 disposal and recycling facilities have been established since late 2014, with increased recycling of nearly 50% for either type of facility.
Efforts to improve our recycling score are not limited to those mentioned above. Wishing to take paper, plastic and metal recycling bins a step further and encourage recycling, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has announced the introduction of Mobile Smart Waste Transfer Units. People will be able to dump their recyclable material such as paper, metal, plastic etc. into these units and the value of their recyclable material will be credited to their Istanbulkart, which they can use on all public transport in the city.
Moreover, public service announcements prepared by ministries and relevant institutions are being broadcast by national television networks to increase recycling awareness throughout the country.
There is news that certain steps will be taken regarding the use of plastics also in Turkey as we as a country have been placing greater emphasis on recycling in recent years. Habertürk reports that it is being discussed whether shops in Turkey should start charging for plastic shopping bags as of the beginning of 2019.
There are many resources on the internet concerning recycling as it is becoming such an important part of our lives and conversations. Various methods are presented to reuse products; making wallets from milk cartons, handbags from jeans or plant pots from car tyres are just to name a few. It is also possible to follow developing trends on the internet concerning recycling. An interesting example is the blog focusing on "Zero Waste." Kathyrn Kellogg, the founder of "Going Zero Waste" blog offers suggestions for making various products at home without creating waste such as make-up and ornaments while sharing recipes that result in absolutely no waste. She herself managed to fit all the waste she created in an entire year into a 250 ml jar!
There are also brands that owe their existence to recycling. For instance, Restore Jeans takes used, comfortable denims and redesigns them in a classical, always fashionable form. While protecting the environment, they also eliminate the use of approximately 7 tons of water that is needed to produce new jeans. Similarly, certain cosmetics brands offer discounts to those who bring their empty containers. Likewise, fast fashion brands like Zara and H&M are giving discount rates to those who bring their old clothes.
Using trash for different purposes is yet another aspect of recycling. Çöp(m)adam [Trash(wo)man] is a brand that puts recycling of trash in the core of the business. They utilize used packaging material to make wallets and handbags.
Another critical issue regarding recycling is focusing on efficient use of energy. Most of the energy that we use comes from fossil fuels, which emit harmful gases into the atmosphere. This accelerates air pollution and is one of the leading causes of global warming. Consequently, significant emphasis has been placed on efforts to ensure more efficient use of energy in the fields of architecture, heating and lighting as well as in automotive industry.
For example, now there are different energy efficiency classes and all electrical home appliances are labelled accordingly. While a device with A energy class has high energy efficiency, a unit with class G has the poorest. When you use a C class fridge rather than a fridge of the same capacity labelled class A, you utilize 45% more energy. On the other hand, if you used a G class unit, your energy consumption would be 85% higher.
A brand that is focusing on recycling through efficient use of electrical power is Tesla. Tesla has taken major steps in environmental protection by manufacturing electric-powered vehicles to combat petrol-based pollution and overcome supply problems. CB Insights reports the establishment of a new company whose founding partners listed as Tesla co-founder and CTO along with its special projects chief. The initiative is said to target utilizing "advanced technology and process development for materials recycling, remanufacturing and reuse."
So what developments have been taking place in Turkey while such dramatic steps are being taken regarding recycling throughout the world? We have carried out a survey with 100 male and female participants of 15 - 45 years of age from SES groups of ABC1C2 living in İstanbul to observe how behaviours and attitudes on recycling are being formed in Turkey.
Those who stated that they knew what materials can be recycled was established to be 67%. Of the participants, 10 out of 4 of those who stated knowing what materials can be recycled said they classified their trash into glass, plastics and paper groups. The percentage of those reportedly using the recycling bins placed by local municipalities was 42.
When asked their opinions regarding a possible levy on plastic shopping bags, most participants responded favourably; many saying "it is important to be considerate to the nature" and "we use plastic bags because we have to but it would be better not to." Some stated that they did not want to pay for a harmful product such as a plastic carrier bag while a small group suggested banning plastic bags altogether without even imposing a charge on them.
Those reporting to pay attention to their domestic energy consumption was observed to be 73%. When asked how they did that, they said they turned off unnecessary lights, did not leave any unnecessary cables plugged in, used domestic appliances with low energy consumption and did their laundry in the evenings.
The availability of electrical appliances with low energy consumption was known by 64% of all participants. Of those, 40% reportedly used them. The information regarding low energy consumption came mostly from the internet and advertisements. Lightbulbs and household appliances such as fridges, dishwashers and washing machines were listed as low-energy consuming devices commonly used by the participants.
Of the participants, 2 out of 10 stated that they knew how to make use of discarded electronic equipment, while 52% reportedly disposed of batteries correctly for recycling.
Opinions differ regarding paying a higher price for a product that can lead to savings over long-term. While the majority said, "it makes sense if what you save makes up for the price difference" or "we are not rich enough to buy a cheap product", others found such products to be unnecessary and stated that ultimately their budget decided what they bought.
Although our research indicates a rather positive outlook in terms of recycling in Turkey, we can conclude that the positive attitudes regarding recycling has not fully translated into behaviours yet. Therefore, the high percentages reported represent behaviours consumers wish to have rather than their actual ones. Nevertheless, it is evident that awareness on recycling has been increasing in Turkey. As awareness increases and behaviours are formed, brands have to be even more attentive. Brands that fail to see the significance of recycling and continue to be indifferent to the harm caused on the environment might have difficulties over long-term. Therefore, it seems they should take necessary steps without delay to start adapting as awareness and need concerning recycling increases. We will all see the new steps and measures that will be taken.