Turkey Turns Trash Into Wattage and Warmth

The Mamak Miracle

I got to thinking the other day about trash, rubbish, or whatever you want to call it. There is really no better way to measure conspicuous consumption than to simply have a look at the accumulation of trash that it produces. In fact, measurement of waste is considered a key income indicator and shows levels of development in different countries according various international development agencies. Living with four other people in my flat (that is European for apartment), I usually take out a full-sized trash bag to the street every evening before seven, when the trash truck comes around. Here, there are no blue bins to put recyclables in. Actually, the closest thing to recycling is the scavengers who weave their way through the city at all hours of the day. These boys and young men go around the city, dig through trash, and take cardboard out to turn it in for a profit, as well as taking other waste products that they might find useful. In this city of millions of people and hundreds, if not thousands, of high-rise apartment buildings, I started to wonder where the hell all the rest of the trash goes. The answer will amaze you.

My digging and questioning around yielded some pretty interesting revelations. Up until recently there were simply fields of toxic and flammable trash directly outside the city, in a place called Mamak. This posed a number of problems. First off, it was quite an unpleasant sight and smelled terrible. Secondly, during the extremely hot summers in Ankara, the methane buildup in the decomposing trash would spontaneously explode, emitting toxic and rancid air throughout the city.

The solution to these problems was not only innovative in its essence but it also provides an amazing blueprint for other countries to apply these techniques.

A company named ITC, with the help of the World Bank (I know, it hurts as I am saying it) are using new technologies to maximize the energy output of trash. The different activities involved in this process provide a number of services and energy opportunities for the city, ranging from electricity to producing organic tomatoes. The company collected all the trash that was strewn around Mamak and created a landfill with vertical and horizontal piping throughout its insides. The piping extracts biogas (methane and carbon dioxide). These gases are then used as fuel for turbines that produce electricity. This process, like many other energy-producing processes, results in a lot of excess heat that normally is not used; it’s wasted. Very inefficient. But in the Mamak project, the excess heat from the energy conversion is used to keep greenhouses at the right temperature to grow tomatoes.

In addition to the production of electricity and organic tomatoes this project provides employment opportunities and charity. Like many other waste collection concerns, ITC separates solid waste, as well as plant and garden waste, from recyclable waste at its landfill—providing new, green jobs to the citizens of Ankara. With regard to the scavengers mentioned above, who have a precarious job digging through conceivably hazardous materials, ITC has constructed sites throughout the city to collect trash that may have originally been stored at these people’s homes, potentially causing harm to them and their families. It is all part of an overall effort to maximize the productive use of waste, as well as the beginning of a plan to introduce public recycling centers and recycling trucks.

The company is constantly making efforts to get its message out to the public. The best way to do it, they say, is to go door to door with information. Handouts, posters, and notices are distributed to inform as many people as possible about the efforts of ITC.

These projects are expanding throughout the region, with similar landfill sites elsewhere in Turkey and in neighboring countries. It is not only a great example of a public and private partnership, it is also indicative of this country’s drive toward modernization and development in a sustainable manner.


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