Istanbul Recycling 101

When I first came to Istanbul in October of 2014, I was completely bewildered by the recycling system. I found almost nothing on the internet, and the little I did find was in Turkish, which at the time I couldn’t speak very well. Most of my expat friends didn’t know what to tell me. When I asked Turks who spoke English about the Istanbul recycling system, they usually laughed and replied with glib answers, such as “It’s nonexistent.” While recycling in Istanbul is certainly not self-explanatory and could use amelioration, the good news is it does exist and is not as difficult as you might think. Through talking to other friends who were determined to live an ecologically scrupulous lifestyle even when it wasn’t so easy, learning a little more Turkish, and a bit of trial and error, I finally figured out how to recycle here. With the information and guidelines listed below, you can too.

Istanbul Recycling 101

While there is currently very little public recycling (or geri dönüşüm in Turkish) for cans, plastic, and paper recyclables, these are recycled by private companies. If you ever put these recyclables in the regular trash because you didn’t know what else to do, you’ll be happy to learn it was probably recycled anyway. This is because carriers who work for these private companies dig through the trash, remove the paper, cans, and plastic products and put them in a large tarp sack that they carry around the city and recycle in factories. You may have seen them carry these sacks in carts behind their backs on metal carts similar to the carts used to carry luggage at the airport. Glass, however, is a different story. It’s best to put your glass recyclables in bottle-shaped metal containers on street corners that say cam geri dönüşüm (glass recycling). It might sound like a lot to remember, but soon you’ll get the hang of it. And it’s certainly worth the effort. Just follow these tips below:

1. When recycling glass bottles and jars, separate them from plastic, cans, and paper. You can simply put them in a plastic bag in an out-of-the-way place in the kitchen until it fills up.

2. When you are ready to recycle these glass products, take them to a convenient glass recycling receptacle. Remember that clear bottles and jars need to go in the white side of the container, marked renksiz (not colored). Colored glass goes in the green side, marked renkli (colored). You can use the bag again for the next batch of glass recyclables.

3. When recycling paper, plastic, and cans it’s best to separate them from regular trash to increase their chances of actually being recycled. This also saves the recycling carriers the trouble of having to dig through. Again, they can be separated in a plastic bag and left in a convenient place until full.

4. When taking out your paper, plastic, and cans look around to see if you can find the recycling carriers. You may see them digging through the trash or walking to the next dumpster and will be happy to accept a bag of recyclables that has been considerately sorted for them.

5. If you don’t see the actual carriers, you may see their tarp sacks left outside on their carts. Feel free to just drop your bag inside of it.

6. If you don’t see the carriers or their sacks, the next best thing is to leave your bag of recyclables on the side of the dumpster on the ground. Don’t worry that the trash trucks will take it to the landfill before it can be recycled. The carriers come several times a day and many times I have left my bag of recyclables there to find that a few hours later it had been taken, but the garbage was left behind.

7. In some areas, such as Caddebostan, there are large blue plastic containers where you can recycle paper, plastic, and cans. However, these are very new and may not be convenient to your area. To the best of my knowledge, though, they are reliable.

8. If you have a plastic or metal product that you’re not sure can be recycled effectively, put it with the recyclables anyway. I am often astonished to see the carriers holding objects such as old chairs and black plastic crates in their sacks. Whatever can’t be recycled will just be tossed later.

9. Turkcell also has a program that allows you to recycle old phones and chargers. This is very important because electronic waste is quite toxic. If you have a phone or charger that no longer works, take it to the large Turkcell shop on İstiklal Caddessi near Collezione and Burger King and drop it in their receptacle labelled geri dönüşüm. Other larger Turkcell stores may also be able to do this.

10. Before throwing away used batteries, see if there is a battery recycling container in your neighborhood. These are labeled Atık Pil Kutusu.

I hope you find these guidelines easy to follow and share them with others in your sphere of influence. Remember that every small effort to protect and heal our planet is powerful and appreciated. If you have any further information about recycling in Turkey, please share in our comments section.

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Paz Griot
Paz Griot is a spoken word poet, visual artist, actor, playwright, and performer originally from New York City. He has been living in Istanbul for 2 years and traveling the world since high school, including the United States Peace Corps and the University of Hyderabad, India. He has written and published several poems, performed in countless plays and open mic events, written seven plays and exhibited his paintings, collages, and sculptures in six gallery shows in New York. He was awarded the Blue Dot Award for innovation in visual arts in 2011 by the Art Students League. He is currently writing his eighth play, launching a Zen meditation group, and pursuing freelance opportunities in writing and editing. You can also follow him on his Youtube channel.

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