Turkey, with a population of 74 million, produces around 25 million tonnes
of solid waste every year, according to the Institute of Resources and Energy
Technology. About 40% of it is disposed by municipalities, but much is handled
by unlicensed collectors.
Istanbul’s 15 million residents are the country’s largest producers of
waste, 14,000 tonnes every day. While recycling is not common, there are private
garbage collectors, many who are ethnic Kurds and unlicensed collectors, who
roam the streets gathering recyclable items.
Tarlabasi is a rough-and-tumble neighbourhood near the central Taksim
Square where many of the Istanbul's unlicensed garbage collectors live. Metin, a
46-year-old father of three who asked that his last name not be used because of
the illegal nature of his work, began working as a garbage collector 15 years
Bottles, aluminium and cardboard are popular items to collect. ''The
bottles are the best. I get one Turkish lira (40 euro cents) per kilogram,''
said Metin. Like many collectors, he works 12 to 15 hours a day.
Metin has found many valuable items on the streets of Istanbul -- from
electronics to furniture. ''I have filled my home with things I found on the
streets,'' he said.
Collectors say the best they can expect to make is 1,000 Turkish lira (420
euros) per month. They look for everything, including bottles, aluminium, paper,
clothes, shoes and bags. Bitsel, 55, mostly collects plastic bottles. ''The
water bottles are the best,'' she said. ''I like to work and I love to work for
Sinan's family moved to Istanbul seven years ago from Van in southeast
Turkey. Waste collecting is a family business. All eight members of the family
collect around 3000 kg of garbage weekly. The family owns a small
garbage-recycling centre beneath their house in Tarlabasi.
Private garbage collecting in Istanbul requires permission from the
municipality. Sinan's brother, Ahmet, received a 64 Turkish lira (27 euros) fine
recently for collecting garbage on the streets. The municipality has also
confiscated eight of his trash carts.
Official waste collectors can be recognised from the municipality's
jackets. The jacket has a number on the back for the route.
Illegal collectors have their own rules and routes. They have meetings to
set up the routes, explained Murat Aksu, 22, who moved to Istanbul in
Sometimes competition over the best routes can turn physical, Sinan
Collected garbage goes to recycling points, like this one in Tarlabasi.
Some of them are family owned rooms located on the ground floor. Others are
bigger warehouses, where the trash is sorted into different piles of recycled
items such as bottles and cardboard.
The sorted items are sent to a factory located on the outskirts of Istanbul
once or twice a week, where they are processed and recycled.