Background information on waste management in Turkey as a whole
In 2003, as a result of the EU Integration Process, Turkey incorporated EU standards on recycling and deployed new technologies and economic structures in order to recover as much waste as possible . As of 2009, the Directorate of Environmental Protection and Waste Management under the Environmental Protection and Control Department is focused on the aggregate collection and recycling of waste while the Directorate of Environmental Protection and Control together with the Directorate of Cleaning Affairs are involved in the district municipalities. Collection activities are carried out by authorized institutions and licensed transportation firms while private recycling facilities operate according to the regulations of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry .
The incorporation of the Environmental Law in 2003 together with the 2011 Regulation on Packaging Waste Control is said to have resulted in an increase of the amount of recovered plastic, metal and paper from approximately 9.5 million tonnes per year in 2012 to 19.1 million tonnes per year in 2014 . This suggests that there is a high commercial gain in the recycling sector.
Unfortunately, roughly 500.000 Turkish wastepickers  are excluded from such commercial activities and recent laws and regulations pushed many of them into unemployment as they struggle to sell waste. Early 2016 it was decided by the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning to allow licensed firms to purchase waste from wastepickers under the condition that they won’t categorize this waste as properly legal waste on their income and expenses report . This is an improvement compared to the previous situation where recycling firms had to pay a fine of 140,000 Turkish Lyra (approximately 23,000 USD May 2019 exchange rate) if they purchased waste from wastepickers. Nonetheless, the purchase of waste from wastepickers still doesn’t count as “legal waste” .
By 2018, the tension between wastepickers and legally recognized recycling and waste facilities grew even more as the result of increased imports of plastic waste from the United Kingdom. According to a wastepicker: “3.5m out of 6m tonnes of waste produced annually is collected by us, but these earning drop due to imports; they decrease the value of the waste we collect” . The reason the United Kingdom has been exporting more waste to Turkey is related to the import ban implemented by China at the beginning of 2018 . As a result, the first 3 months of 2018 have witnessed an increase in the amount of plastic waste to Turkey, from 12,022 to 27,034 tons .
This goes to show that informal wastepickers across Turkey have been systematically excluded from the Turkish laws concerning waste collection, recycling, and imports.
The specific situation in Ankara Ankara, is Turkey’s capital and second-largest city after Istanbul. With around 4.6 million inhabitants it is estimated that there are around 15.000 wastepickers  of which 8000 are specifically paper wastepickers. They are usually working in unhealthy circumstances and accommodated in abandoned buildings. Halil Ibrahim Akar, a 21 year old paper wastepicker in Ankara describes his situation as follows:
“We work between 12-15 hours a day. We walk 15-20 kilometers on average per day. Sometimes I walk the Kızılay-Sıhhiye-Ulus line four times. We are striving to live our life, we sweat blood for everything we earn. But, people see us in different ways on streets. That they see us as ‘offenders, thief’ hurt us. We are workers. We neither steal nor cheat anyone. We do not beg, we are not green-eyed towards others’ properties. We make our money sweating blood and we want some respect” .
According to the researcher Serter Oran , waste management in Ankara revolves around 7 actors: 1) informal waste pickers, 2) organized waste pickers, 3) middlemen, 4) sorting and collecting facilities, 5) recycling factories, 6) municipalities and 7) the ministry of the environment and urban planning. The main conflict has taken place between the informal waste pickers and municipalities.
Around 2004, the Swiss-based ITC (Invest Trading & Consulting AG) was granted a license to operate a recycling facility on the Mamak landfill. ITC then became the authorized authority on waste and solid waste recycling in Ankara . At that time, the Ankara Metropolitan Mayor Melih Gökçek was of the opinion that: “this work was undertaken by Invest Trading company. We do not want to give money to the company will do this job, ...” . In the following years, the carts of wastepickers who were constantly working on the streets were confiscated and frequent debates and fights between the municipal police and the workers, and the public relations specialist of ITC took place . Under Muzaffer Eryılmaz (Metropolitan Mayor from 2004-2009), the Ankara Metropolitan Municipality and Çankaya Municipality acted jointly against the waste paper workers and tried to remove the waste paper workers in cooperation. The main argument used when trying to remove waste paper workers is that waste paper workers are stealing municipal waste. As of 2005-2006, more than 30 thousand people in Ankara (10,000 families) have been affected negatively. Waste paper workers' monthly income as of 2006 decreased to 400 lira with the attempts of the municipal monopolization of recycling .
Violent clashes between the municipal police and wastepickers also escalated in this period. In September 2006, a wastepicker named Zabıta was beaten to death after he was beaten to the curb and he was thrown on the sidewalk. This incident is also treated as the start-date of this ongoing conflict. Furthermore, in 2008 another set of attacks was carried out by police in the Çankaya district leading to injured paper wastepickers. This attack was denounced by a group of approximately 60 people, including wastepickers. Together with the Ankara branch of the Human Rights Association, they stood in front on the Çankaya municipal building and held a press release .
While these types of conflicts persist, the current situation is not so much characterized by protests. Instead, the group of organized waste pickers are currently negotiating their legal positions with the ministry in the last year. Recep Karaman, head of the Street Waste Collectors Association (Sokak Atık Toplayıcıları Derneği) in Ankara, is fighting to gain a self-assurance and self-employment status for Ankara’s wastepickers. His association has been operating since 2015 and has around 2700 members, none of which have health insurance and are constantly experiencing difficulties with municipal waste collecting teams in Ankara. Karaman mentions that wastepickers are basically covering the job municipal waste collecting teams don’t manage to get done. Because Ankara’s wastepickers are able to collect waste at the times shopkeepers and tradesmen want, they prefer to deliver their waste to wastepickers rather than the municipal teams who work on fixed schedules. At the same time, the sorting and collecting facilities, receive a majority of their income through the purchase of waste from wastepickers even if the Turkish law dictates that facilities are only allowed to buy waste from legal actors such as the municipalities . The sorting and collecting facilities’ high dependence on wastepickers is related to the fact that wastepickers in Ankara collect up to 5 times as much waste as the municipalities . But the fact remains that firms are not allowed to record informal waste purchases in their accounts.
Another active association is the Recycling Workers/Waste Picker Association (Geri Dönüşüm İşçileri Derneği/Atık Kağıt İşçileri) which reports on wastepickers in Ankara through Facebook and Twitter [12,13]. The topics they discuss range from community building projects with wastepickers to the tension between legal enforcement units and wastepickers. In 2016, the association’s president, Mehmet Göçer explicitly mentioned the importance of incorporating unemployed wastepickers into a legal waste-collecting framework:
“Those who are unemployed will somehow try to win their bread. She'll feed her offspring. Either the crime will be committed, so maybe this sentence will be reversed... this is the result of compulsion”.
Finally, firms in the waste management sector are also represented by the Waste Materials Manufacturers Association (TÜDAM). It is an association established by the licensed firms under the regulation of Package and Waste Control published by the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning . At this moment, their concern is not so much about wastepickers but about the increasing imports of plastic waste. According to Vedat Kılıç, Turkey’s already low collection rates “are being crushed by these uncontrolled waste imports” . This was part of Kılıç’s speech at a public meeting “There’s a fire in the waste sector. Turkey is not the world’s dump” held in 2018 and demanding that measures be taken to determine sustainable waste policies in the country . International organizations have also played a role in the wastepickers conflict, in December 2016, the International Labour Organization together with the Ministry of Customs and Trade organized a workshop called “Understanding the Role of Waste Pickers and their Cooperatives in Waste Management and Recycling” in Ankara, Turkey. This meeting was attended by Turkish wastepickers as well as central and local government officials. The key theme of the workshop was the role of wastepickers in a transitioning and modernizing integrated waste management system in Turkey. Some concrete solutions were proposed in the spirit of collective entrepreneurship and cooperatives, as demonstrated by experiences in Colombia and Brazil .
Time will tell whether these efforts will be successful and to what extent unorganized waste pickers in Ankara will raise their voices and increasingly associate themselves with organizations like the Street Waste Collectors Association(Sokak Atık Toplayıcıları Derneği) in cooperation with TÜRK-İŞ.