Please zoom in or out and select the base layer according to your preference to make the map ready for printing, then press the Print button above.

Ankara wastepickers struggle to be formally incorporated into the legal waste collecting framework, Turkey


Description:

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 [1]. 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 [2].

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 [3]. This suggests that there is a high commercial gain in the recycling sector.

Unfortunately, roughly 500.000 Turkish wastepickers [4] 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 [1]. 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” [1]. 

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” [4]. 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 [5]. 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 [4]. 

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 [6] 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” [7].

According to the researcher Serter Oran [8], 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 [18]. 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, ...” [19]. 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 [18]. 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 [20].

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 [21].

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 [1]. 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 [8]. 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 [14]. 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” [15]. 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 [16]. 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 [17].

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.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Ankara wastepickers struggle to be formally incorporated into the legal waste collecting framework, Turkey
Country:Turkey
State or province:Ankara
Location of conflict:Ankara
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Plastic and Paper

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The actors mentioned are all actively working on the recognition of wastepickers and their future incorporation in the legal waste collecting sector. But so far there hasn't been a concrete project with the aim of accomplishing this. The only step that has been taken is the establishment of a pilot project in which wastepickers who are active at the border of the Ankara municipality have received free new clothes and medical screening.

Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:8000-15000
Start of the conflict:01/09/2006
Company names or state enterprises:TÜDAM from Turkey - Municipal waste collecting teams pick up waste and deliver it to the licensed firms in this association
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning
Ministry of Labour and Social Security
Ministry of Customs and Trade
Ankara Municipality Waste Collection Teams
International and Finance InstitutionsInternational Labour Organization (ILO) from Switzerland
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Ankara Street Waste Collectors Association (Sokak Atık Toplayıcıları Derneği)
-https://www.facebook.com/sokakatiktoplayicilaridernegi
-https://twitter.com/atiktoplayici
Recycling Workers/Waste Picker Association (Geri Dönüşüm İşçileri Derneği/Atık Kağıt İşçileri)
-https://www.facebook.com/atikkagitiscileri/
-https://twitter.com/atikkagit

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Informal workers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Trade unions
Forms of mobilization:Development of alternative proposals
Street protest/marches
Some small protests took place in 2007 and 2009. Now there is an ongoing dialogue with municipalities, national ministries and trade unions

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Waste overflow
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Potential: Infectious diseases
Other Health impactsThe wastepickers have no access to health insurance and their accommodation is subject to health risks
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Repression
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:Turkey’s biggest labour union, TÜRK-İŞ, has recently also become involved with waste pickers. In the beginning of 2019, TÜRK-İŞ made a contract with a local municipality in Ankara in which they agreed on waste picker’s working conditions. This resulted in the development of a pilot study where the waste pickers who work on the border of this municipality were given new clothes and a free medical screening. Based on the success of this project, TÜRK-İŞ and the Ministry will take steps to spread the project to the whole of Turkey [8]. Recep Karaman of the Street Waste Collectors Association(Sokak Atık Toplayıcıları Derneği) has warmly welcomed the effort by TÜRK-İŞ to make the issue of waste pickers visible and increasing social awareness [6].
Given the heavy reliance of both shopkeepers and sorting and collecting facilities on wastepickers, the Street Waste Collectors Association demands that the budgets allocated to the municipal teams should include wastepickers. In other words, informal wastepickers need to be integrated into the municipal wastecollecting teams in order to receive social security [10]. This effort is an ongoing process as Karaman is currently conducting negotiations with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and aims to integrate wastepickers in the municipal wastecollecting teams as part of Turkey’s nation-wide “Zero Waste Regulation” [11].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:So far, this effort is only taking place in one of Ankara's municipalities. Depending on its success it will expand to the rest of Ankara or the rest of Turkey. But such a project still doesn't say much on whether informal wastepickers will eventually be either employed, self-employed and receive the right for social security.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[8] Email exchange with Dr. Serter Oran, Assistant Professor at Zonguldak University. Author of PhD Dissertation on the class positions of waste pickers in Ankara
http://akademikcv.beun.edu.tr/cv/serter.oran.html

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[2] What is the value of waste? - In Turkish
http://1tb.iksv.org/ncr-09-economy-what-does-waste-worth/?lang=tr

[3] Waste Disposal and Recovery Facilities Statistics, 2014
http://www.tuik.gov.tr/PreHaberBultenleri.do?id=18776

[4] Turkey’s plastic waste imports from the UK are booming – but at what cost?
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/18/uk-plastic-waste-imports-to-turkey-boom-but-at-what-cost

[9] Waste collectors protest municipalities - In Turkish
http://www.radikal.com.tr/turkiye/atik-toplayicilari-belediyeleri-protesto-etti-969200/

[1] Will waste pickers in Turkey join the Unemployed army?
https://globalrec.org/2016/02/05/will-waste-pickers-in-turkey-join-unemployed-army/

[5] China's plastic trash ban is spur to recycle: U.N. Environment
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-environment-plastics/chinas-plastic-trash-ban-is-spur-to-recycle-u-n-environment-idUSKBN1FI2E2

[6] Iftar dinner from TURK-IS to paper collectors
https://www.yeniakit.com.tr/haber/turk-isten-kagit-toplayicilarina-iftar-yemegi-746937.html

[7] Paper collectors across Turkey cry out against public prejudice
http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/paper-collectors-across-turkey-cry-out-against-public-prejudice-142487

[10] We don't do a wrong job - In Turkish
https://satder.org.tr/biz-yanlis-bir-is-yapmiyoruz.html

[11] Turkey's zero-waste project wastes no effort in fight for environment
https://www.dailysabah.com/turkey/2019/01/01/turkeys-zero-waste-project-wastes-no-effort-in-fight-for-environment

[14] About TÜDAM
http://www.tudam.org.tr/en/hakkimizda.aspx

[15] Press release TÜDAM "There’s a fire in the waste sector. Turkey is not the world’s dumpster" - In Turkish
http://www.tudam.org.tr/basinda_biz/65/tudam-yonetim-kurulu-baskanindan-onemli-uyari

[17] Step forward for wastepickers in Turkey
https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/cooperatives/news/WCMS_538871/lang--en/index.htm

[16] Vedat Kılıç, Chairmain of TÜDAM
https://www.haberler.com/tudam-yonetim-kurulu-baskani-kilic-aciklamasi-10776823-haberi/

[19] No smell is heard in the Mamak dump, 2006
http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/son-dakika-meteorolojiden-marmara-icin-saganak-yagis-uyarisi-41336853

[21] Municipal police attacked waste paper workers, 2008
http://sendika63.org/2008/03/zabitanin-atik-kagit-iscilerine-saldirisi-kinandi-19173/

No smell is heard in the Mamak dump, 2006
http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/son-dakika-meteorolojiden-marmara-icin-saganak-yagis-uyarisi-41336853

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[12] Facebook Page Ankara's Recycling Workers/Waste Picker Association
https://www.facebook.com/atikkagitiscileri/

[13] Twitter Page Recycling Workers/Waste Picker Association
https://twitter.com/atikkagit

Meta information

Contributor:Chandni Dwarkasing - EnvJustice ICTA-UAB
Last update21/12/2019

Images

 

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 2

Paper waste collectors in Ankara. Source: Photo story by Fevzi Kızılkoyun

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 1

Wastepicker carrying his waste cart. Source: Photo by Sonia Dias

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 3

Recycling Workers/Waste Picker’s Association Banner and Member. Source: Atık Kağıt İşçileri Facebook Page

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 4

Police inspecting wastepicker trash in Ankara. Source: Atık Kağıt İşçileri Twitter page

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 3

Recycling Workers/Waste Picker’s Association Banner and Member. Source: Atık Kağıt İşçileri Facebook Page

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 4

Police inspecting wastepicker trash in Ankara. Source: Atık Kağıt İşçileri Twitter page

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 1

Wastepicker carrying his waste cart. Source: Photo by Sonia Dias

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 2

Paper waste collectors in Ankara. Source: Photo story by Fevzi Kızılkoyun

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 3

Recycling Workers/Waste Picker’s Association Banner and Member. Source: Atık Kağıt İşçileri Facebook Page

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 4

Police inspecting wastepicker trash in Ankara. Source: Atık Kağıt İşçileri Twitter page

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 2

Paper waste collectors in Ankara. Source: Photo story by Fevzi Kızılkoyun

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 1

Wastepicker carrying his waste cart. Source: Photo by Sonia Dias

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 1

Wastepicker carrying his waste cart. Source: Photo by Sonia Dias

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 3

Recycling Workers/Waste Picker’s Association Banner and Member. Source: Atık Kağıt İşçileri Facebook Page

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 4

Police inspecting wastepicker trash in Ankara. Source: Atık Kağıt İşçileri Twitter page

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 2

Paper waste collectors in Ankara. Source: Photo story by Fevzi Kızılkoyun

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 1

Wastepicker carrying his waste cart. Source: Photo by Sonia Dias

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 2

Paper waste collectors in Ankara. Source: Photo story by Fevzi Kızılkoyun

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 3

Recycling Workers/Waste Picker’s Association Banner and Member. Source: Atık Kağıt İşçileri Facebook Page

Wastepicker Case Ankara Turkey 4

Police inspecting wastepicker trash in Ankara. Source: Atık Kağıt İşçileri Twitter page