BY LEYLA YVONNE ERGI
On July 28, 2022, humanity officially consumed more resources than the planet can sustainably produce for the year. This means since that date, which is 2022’s Earth Overshoot Day, we are experiencing an ecological deficit in which human beings are depleting the natural resources on Earth and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In other words, on July 28, we had already used up what the planet can provide us in one year. This day is measured every year and sadly to say, this one was the earliest date yet.
So the situation is serious, yet so many of us just don’t know the true ramifications of what we are sacrificing simply for convenience. Summer is a time when people especially throw caution to the wind. And let me remind you that the wind blows straight from Türkiye’s shore into seas, rivers and forests, where it takes the plastic packaging we purchase out of comfort, not thinking of the consequences. Plastic can take decades to break down all the while disintegrating into smaller pieces that turn into kindling for fires or food for marine life.
What saddens me most is that the Turks that live in rural Anatolia as well as the locals in villages situated along those forests and shores actually have a number of sustainability practices, ones that are not being safeguarded by the urbanites and visiting foreigners. So, for those who may not know how much they care or the ways to follow by example, the following are some top tips on living sustainably from the Turks.
Choose, reuse, gift glass jars
Turks generally tend to reuse or repurpose anything they can, from olive tins turned into planters to pickle jars used to store preserves. I personally reuse glass jars as water jugs, coffee cups or even to store a snack or salad for on-the-go. We all know that glass containers are a far superior option when it comes to protecting the planet from the overwhelming plastic it harbors, which if you are wondering this year is 8.3 billion tons. What does that mean? Well, if there are 7.8 billion people in the world, if you do the math this means there is more than one ton of plastic on the planet per person.
While glass is actually an even worse culprit and many may not realize can take a million years to decompose in a landfill, the point here is simply not throwing packaging away but reusing them, which is something that can be done time and time again with glass. So, having a vessel to refill in lieu of single-use plastic water bottles is literally one of the most important decisions we can make in the world. In Türkiye, nearly every water producer sells small and large glass water bottles. The larger you get the better, but these are all jars that can later be reused by locals who may fill them with olive oil, molasses or anything they prepare to store for later. Simply give the glass jars you have to any local vendors or retailer and most likely they will know the right person to gift them to.
Stop racking up plastic
First of all, I want to explain something many foreigners may not know. Turks traditionally shop in bulk and have cloth shopping bags for use at the farmer’s market. You too can do the same if you forego purchasing any plastic bags from the larger supermarkets and buy a large cloth shopping bag. This bag can be folded up and carried on your person at all times so you never need to accept another plastic bag again and it can be used as a beach bag. Local vendors and markets will have the most options for purchasing items without packaging. Whether it be purchasing fruit or vegetables, cheese or legumes in bulk at the weekly farmer’s market, or exhausting the options at your market, who will have many items to purchase without wrapping, because they will have bought it wholesale solely for this purpose. So, whether it is a candle or a battery, ask the shop owner if you can purchase the option without packaging.
Best bulk buys ever
One of the biggest culprits of packaging that is now littering our pristine beaches comes in the form of single-serving snacks. These candy bars and bags of nuts and chips were not popular items here decades ago and why so, as here we have had a strong tradition of buying fresh and warm nuts from nut vendors aka “Kuruyemişçi” and loose teas and herbs from “Aktars.” In other words just buy in bulk when you can and from local vendors because not only will it be better for the planet and healthier for you, it also supports the local economy.
Secrets from the village
Old school Turks have a lot of sustainability practices that are just inherent in their culture but that we could truly learn from. I kid you not, my village neighbors rewash their plastic bags and hang them up like laundry. This may seem surprising, but isn’t the fact that it takes a 1,000 years for a plastic bag to disintegrate in a landfill much more shocking. A cotton shirt on the other hand can decompose in just months. Why don’t we give the same respect to plastic bags, which we will have to live with for the rest of our lives and possibly the next 10 generations that follow us? When did this throw-away mentality surface and where, because it certainly wasn’t here.
Turks tend to supply their drinking water from fountains of fresh streaming water, which most towns will have access too while tailors will take care of any mending of textiles that are not just tossed away with the wind here.
I beg of you, just get the cone!
It can take up to 450 years for those plastic water bottles so many of us purchase and then throw away on the same day to actually decompose in a landfill. The single-use coffee cups, which turned the Western world into coffee-drinking walkers, has unfortunately now made it’s way into Türkiye. But those takeaway coffee cups are yet another pointless purchase in my opinion, as you can buy very affordable reusable thermoses at any supermarket. It takes 30 years for the to-go coffee cups we buy to decompose, and most will admit they are only good for a single-serving, whereas a thermos could last forever. And so, I implore you for the planet, for people and for Türkiye … and now this is important … Please just get your ice cream in a cone. The ice cream cups we request out of sheer comfort or to not be tempted to eat the cone, will be on this planet with us for upwards of 50 years.
And when you are having that soda, please tell the waiters you don’t want a straw. Just say: “Pipet istemiyorum.” It takes a plastic straw 200 years to decompose. Turks don’t even use straws mostly and in some cases even share cups at home. Yet nature here will have to contend with tourists’ straws for much longer than our lifetimes. Just say no. It helps the planet and your pocket.