Thus was I frequently reprimanded by one or the other of my children on my recent summer trip back to the UK. While they were growing up and therefore living under my roof, I exerted a huge effort to instill into my kids an understanding of the benefits of recycling. At the time I was greeted with nothing more than exasperated sighs and much stomping out of the kitchen. Now the boot is firmly on the other foot.
Tidying up the trash
After six years of living in Antalya, where recycling is still very much in its infant if not positively prenatal stages, I have, it seems, lost the habit of carefully sorting out the rubbish. This summer in England I stayed with several different family members and at each address had to work out the system of where to deposit old newspapers, glass bottles, plastic containers, compostable trash, etc. What's more -- it was necessary to fathom out exactly which days all these various items needed to be placed in the correct spot on the pavement ready for collection. The better organized houses had reminders of these schedules thoughtfully pinned on the fridge door or tacked to a notice board. Clearly it requires an enormous amount of concentration to keep up with the whole process and not miss one of the all important collection days. Exceptions to the rules are, fortunately, made in the case of “elderly folk,” who, unable to carry the heavy mound of waste paper down the front stairs, are able to have their box especially collected from the front door.
Each town has a different system and color coding for the boxes or bags -- no doubt it all becomes clear with familiarity -- but for me passing through for just a few days, it was a tall order not to toss the cans in with the plastic or mix the used envelopes with the cardboard. Many towns have convenient and immaculately organized recycling sites open to the public. My father-in-law took me to his local site every day of my three-day visit -- and a great pleasure it was, too, seeing the neat and tidy way everything was being stored, from old computers to garden waste.
Here in Turkey, all our rubbish (apart from vegetable waste -- which we keep for the compost heap), heads in the same direction -- to the communal bins. These bins, placed just around the corner from my house, receive all the rubbish from our neighborhood, which includes both residential properties and many of the shops on Atatürk Caddesi, and therefore spend the majority of the time overflowing onto the surrounding pavement and sprouting numerous foraging street cats, cockroaches and, no doubt, rats, too. Particularly in the heat of the summer, a trip to the bins is best done holding one's nose, such is the stench. The best time to take out the rubbish is immediately after the twice daily collection, when there is plenty of space for rubbish and not too much in the way of visible vermin.
Turkey does, of course, have a kind of recycling system -- in which men, women and in some cases children, do the rounds of the local bins and take out plastic, paper, glass or anything else of potential recycling value. This looks like grim and unpleasant work, rooting through the decaying mess of other people's trash and then dragging by hand, heavy and often ramshackle looking carts, battling through the dangerous Antalya traffic to the central recycling points. The only upside is that this is clearly providing a source of income to many families. I can't help feeling though that there must be a better way -- if people would just sort their own rubbish out into separate bags -- it would at least make the job of fishing for plastic or paper an easier task.
There are signs of recycling becoming more mainstream in Antalya -- I have recently noticed bottle, glass and paper banks appearing in one or two places, though I've yet to see anyone actually using them -- but it is early days.
When I was a kid back in the 1960s I remember a TV and poster campaign with the catchy-slogan “Don't be a litter-lout” which worked -- successfully -- at making you ashamed of dropping trash. Why not here in 2011, where there are plenty who open their car windows and chuck cigarette packets or sweet wrappers onto the road, more who see nothing wrong with carelessly discarding litter as they walk along the streets and, even more dishearteningly, a sizeable number who, having escaped the city for a picnic or barbeque in the countryside, leave all their trash behind them. Every well-used road up the surrounding mountains is besmirched with empty plastic bottles, plastic cups and soft-drinks bottles, dangerously broken beer and rakı bottles and supermarket bags spilling out their waste contents. In the UK it's quaintly called “fly-tipping,” and although still happening in certain parts of the country, is highly illegal and if caught brings a hefty fine of up to 5,000 pounds or even a prison sentence. Here it seems to be widespread and almost an acceptable method of waste disposal.
A street called trash
Closer to home -- to be precise -- my street, I have a more pressing concern. My neighbors, most of whom I have developed an amicable if fairly distant relationship with, consisting of nods and the occasional basic exchange in Turkish but not much else, are more than happy to toss their drink cartons, corn on the cob remains, sunflower seed shells, crisp wrappers and endless cigarette-ends, etc. all over the road. The majority of these houses do not have gardens and understandably they tend to congregate out on the street, bringing with them an assortment of chairs and tables. This is fine. So is the noise of their conversations, arguments, wedding parties and even the live loud music often going on until the small hours of the morning. I quite enjoy attempting to eavesdrop and decipher the rapid Turkish exchanges. But I really do object to the rubbish that is often swept out of their homes and into the middle of the road.
Most of the time, I try to avert my eyes from this debris and step over the mess when it is left outside their houses. We do, of course, have a faithful old municipality street cleaner, who does his best to remove the never-ending detritus, but he must be heartily sick of finding the road so continually covered in trash. Occasionally, however, some thoughtful person, particularly if a street party is in the offing, takes it upon themselves to sweep the rubbish from outside their house -- then being too idle to walk around the corner to the bins dump it opposite my house! This is when I see red.
Strangely my Turkish becomes most fluent when angry and arriving back from work the other day, feeling tired, hot and stressed to find all the women of my road well ensconced in their customary positions on the street. Their spots were trash-free but a huge pile of rubbish sat accusingly opposite my front door. I made a great show of sweeping it all up and carting it off in two bin bags to the bin, all the time muttering under my breath in Turkish. Not surprisingly, they haven't talked to me since and, equally unsurprisingly, the rubbish continues to accumulate up and down the road.
While I have no wish to turn Turkey into England, I really wish that there could be at least some move towards an understanding of the environment. When the bins are less than 50 meters away, there is no need to drop rubbish on the ground. When families choose to go out of town for a scenic picnic, why can they not bring their trash home? Perhaps this needs to be addressed before we move on to recycling.