Activists in Turkey Wish to Involve One Million People to Clean Up Waste In Just One Day

By Heidi Koolmeister (Project Leader of the Newsletter of Let’s Do It! World)

Let’s Do It! is represented in Turkey with double the power because there are two motivated Let’s Do It! teams that have the mission to make Turkey litter free. One team promotes the cleanliness of the Mediterranean Sea and organises sea and coastal cleanups under the campaign “Let’s Do It! Mediterranean”, and the other focuses on the whole of Turkey, covering the mainland. Both teams work together in a friendly way. Turkey is a big country — how can it be done?

By territory, Turkey is among the biggest countries in the world (37th). Turkey also has a large population — about 77,7 million people, making this country number 18 and also one of the most populous countries. For statistic nerds — Turkish people make about 1% of the world’s population.

The two teams are working separately because of the territory and also because of the challenges. Even though they’re working for the same mission, each team has their own strategies, volunteers, and areas for clean-ups. However this year the two organisations will coordinate for the first time and hold their clean-up events simultaneously: on the 9th of May they will clean up the mainland and the Mediterranean coastline of Turkey.

We talked to Metin Akın, the coordinator of Let’s Do It! Turkey (Let’ s Do It! Türkiye) and Emre Ustaoğlu, the coordinator of Let’s Do It! Mediterranean Turkey (Let’s Do It! Akdeniz — Türkiye) to understand how Turkey will “do it” this year.

Radical solutions for radical problems

“According to a World Bank report, Turkey is the 12th country that produces the most waste in the World. 86 thousand tons of garbage are produced each day in Turkey and we are trying to reduce this. The main problem is the usage of plastic: if you think of a country with more than 80 million people, and every person uses one plastic bag each day, it makes a crazy amount of plastic bags,” says Metin.

Emre adds that because of untidiness, lack of cooperation and consciousness, and an insufficient number of municipal litter bins, people throw their litter out in places where it does not belong.

The coastal areas of Turkey have also big problems of pollution as Emre explains: “The Mediterranean is dying — international researches show that the Mediterranean Sea is not well ecologically. We have to put a limit on the pollution of the Mediterranean Sea and save it, not just for future generations, but for ourselves, too. This is not just an aesthetic issue as it strongly affects the health of people, wildlife and the society.” He adds, that only last year, under the campaign of Let’s Do It! Mediterranean, 10 tons of waste was collected. Last year, the action didn’t even cover the whole coast and took place only in a few cities and towns.

Emre says that to raise awareness in Turkey, a radical campaign is needed: “We used the campaign the ‘Mediterranean is dying’ last year, as we had to create awareness about the Mediterranean’s situation. After creating the awareness, our slogan was clear and exact: ‘Let’s do it!’. We are running this campaign on our web site with videos and other visual materials.”

Big country, big plans — one day and one million volunteers

This year Turkey has set two big goals. Firstly, they want to involve all the provinces of Turkey in the clean-up action; and secondly they will try to achieve one million volunteers from the country. Today 81 provinces have been involved in the upcoming clean-up. Emre explains how they have achieved this: “Let’s Do It! Mediterranean seeks to clean up the Turkish Mediterranean coast.”

This means 10 different cities from Edirne coastline near the border with Greece to Hatay coastline which is bordering with Syria. The cities involved are Edirne, Çanakkale, Balıkesir, İzmir, Aydın, Muğla, Antalya, Mersin, Adana and Hatay. The national campaign of Let’s Do It! Turkey takes care of the rest of the 71 cities.

Metin believes that one million volunteers is reachable: “Turkey is a big country, so even if we only involve kids from the schools it will help us to achieve our goal. However involving the students is a hard task because this means the support from the governmental level is needed.” However, during the interview it came out, that the cooperation at a governmental level was not agreed this year, meaning the dream will most likely not be realised.

To clean up illegal waste, permission from the government is needed

It is not possible to have a truly massive Let’s Do It! action anywhere without massive cooperation between many partners from various sectors. Metin emphasises the importance of governmental support: “In Turkey all of the municipal waste is collected by the municipalities and as all the trash belongs to the government you have to get permission from the government even to collect the garbage. This year we are trying to gain governmental support.” He explains, that the team tries to meet as many officials as possible and how an official NGO has now been registered.

“This is crucial to gain more leverage: now we have been able to meet with members of parliament, legal bodies, etc. I can’t say that they fully support us yet, but we still keep in touch with them and hopefully we will be able to cooperate with them soon,” Metin comments.

The coastal clean-up is no different. The Let’s Do It! Mediterranean team in Turkey needs to work tightly with the local municipalities as well. “For this year, our city representatives are determining the places to clean and there will be a lot of them. We will announce these places in a press conference and onour website using Google Earth on May 3, 2015. For this year, there will be at least 2–3 cleanup locations in every city. In some locations, the number of cleanups could also be 20 to 30, depending on necessity,”Emre shares. He admits, that the most polluted areas are the ones near big cities with high population density. “Thus I’m expecting the most intense garbage collection in İzmir, Mersin, Muğla and Çanakkale,” says Emre.

The Mediterranean cleanup action leader Emre realises perfectly well, that in order to clean up illegal waste, research organisations, municipalities, waste managing companies, rescue association’s, etc. need to be involved. “We are trying to do the cleanup carefully to ensure minimal damage to coastal habitats and wildlife. We plan and take care of garbage collection, decomposition, delivering the decomposed waste to recycling plants, recycling and supervising the process,” Emre adds.

Syria’s worrying conflict also affects Let’s Do It! actions in Turkey

The Let’s Do It! Turkey team is also facing problems because Syria, a neighbouring country of Turkey, is in the midst of a civil war: “We have volunteers who are going to be active near the border region cities near Syria and this is quite a difficult situation. We have asked the team’s leaders to do the clean-up actions further away from the border. However they know that area much better than us and we trust them to judge by themselves the situation. At the local governmental level they have supporters and they will advise them about security issues,” comments Metin.
Both Emre and Metin hope that this year their movement will be known in the whole country. Emre explains: “There is already a functioning infrastructure for achieving this aim. As for now, we have accumulated lots of stakeholders in the Turkish cities and we are strengthening our structure to become more powerful for next year and the years after.”

Volunteering as a valuable experience

When governments are often slow to react, even if the idea is positive and beneficial for all, regular people can be mobilised to create a true change — such things can happen much faster.
This is why volunteers are the most valuable asset for a movement like Let’s Do It!

There is a Turkish proverb that says that if everybody would clean their own garden in front of their houses, there would be no trash at all. “We wanted to turn this proverb into reality again,” explains Metin from Let’s Do It! Turkey. “Whoever has heard about this idea, has loved it. People are pleased to know that they are a part of the solution and that they are able to do this easily and efficiently,”adds Emre.
According to them, the main thing what attracts people to Let’s Do It! is the experience of volunteering. “Most of our volunteers have never volunteered before, it is a chance for them to feel what it is like to be a volunteer, and this is why most of them joined,” says Metin.
Emre shares his personal volunteering story in Let’s Do It!: “I was responsible for the Urla/İzmir clean up in 2013. When I was asked if I could take responsibility for the Let’s Do It! Mediterranean campaign in Turkey, I contacted my friends and institutions that organise voluntary work and with whom I had worked with in the past, and I asked them if I could get their support. And I got a really good feedback. In one month I managed to establish a coordination team with 130 professionals. Also the public entities had interest in this: in our 2014 cleanup, we had voluntary cooperation with 10 Mediterranean city municipalities, governors, the police and the coast guard, etc.”

Obstacles are for overcoming

Metin admits that they have faced some obstacles when organising this year’s clean-up: “One of our biggest problems in Turkey is communication and the types of communications we use with our teams are very different. People from the eastern side usually prefer a phone call and they ignore e-mails. People who live in the west prefer e-mails. However, part of the centre, Anatolya, is mostly involved by social media (e.g. Facebook, etc.),” he talks about the challenges one faces in a big and culturally diverse country.

Guidelines have been produced, so that teams around the country would know which steps need to be taken to make a cleanup event happen. “It basically says that be prepared to do a clean-up by yourself with your team, try to find a sponsor for your activities and make people enjoy themselves while they participate. We are also preparing some educational video trainings about what they are going to face while organising cleanups,” Metin lists the topics that are covered in the written guidelines.
Let’s hope the teams cooperating and carrying the true Let’s Do It! values (one of them being cooperation) will result in a nation wide cleanup party, making Turkey a clean and healthy country for everyone.

Join the team or help to make them known by supporting their actions in social media. The teams need your help more than anything — help them with contacts, advice, knowledge or make sure you attend the cleanup action on the 9th of May.

Let’ s Do It! Türkiye (nation wide campaign)


Metin Akın

Let’s Do It, Akdeniz! (cities: Edirne, Çanakkale, Balıkesir, İzmir, Aydın, Muğla, Antalya, Mersin, Adana, Hatay)


Emre Ustaoğlu