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Ekrem Demircioglu: Turkey's recycling pioneer

Yönetim Kurulu Başkanımız Ekrem Demircioğlu'nun MAYIS 2010 Recycling Internatıonal Dergisi’nde çıkan röportajı.
 

It’s no overstatement to describe him as the pivot of the Turkish paper recycling industry. Now 61 years of age, Ekrem Demircioglu was advocating a more professional approach to recycling in Turkey long before the country embraced a ‘greener’ strategy. A former Vice President of BIR’s Paper Division, he is currently one of the world recycling organisation’s Ambassadors as well as Chairman of domestic association TÜDAM and advisor to the REW Istanbul exhibition. First and foremost, however, he is General Manager of one of the largest paper recycling companies - and definitely the oldest - in Turkey, namely Dönkasan. Recycling International spoke to him in his Kartal Office.

What can we say about Turkey as a country?

The great advantages for Turkey are not only that it functions as the often-mentioned ‘bridge’ between West and East but also its people. Its 76-million population is very young, especially compared with Europe and the USA. They are the ones who spend the money and who have the ability to create environmentally- conscientious behaviour. An average European consumes 150 kg of paper per year whereas for a Turk it’s just 40 kg. So you can see the big market potential.

What are the milestones in Turkey’s paper recycling history?

When Ataturk founded Turkey, there was a lack of capital among companies. So the government started up state-owned firms in the metals business as well as in the paper industry. For decades, paper had been collected by street collectors, but they were mixing everything together so the quality was very low. In the 1970s, more paper mills were established and all were looking for the same material. That meant higher prices at an even lower quality, which also resulted in increased imports with a higher quality.

The industry visited operations in Europe and saw that they had their own recycling plants. Around 1980, five major companies came together and became shareholders in the first paper recycling firm, which was Dönkasan. In the early years, we were just trading materials; but in 1982, we started the sorting line and now we are the most well-known in Turkey.

From where does Dönkasan source its material?

We are the main contractor to the municipal system. But the municipal system also involves big private parties in Turkey. In contrast to Europe where supermarket chains, for example, can sell recovered paper, they are obliged in Turkey to supply the material to the municipal system. Our fleet of 35 trucks collects this recovered paper and other recyclables on a daily basis. Because, in Turkey, if you have an agreement with the municipality you have to take all the material in that area but this may change under new legislation. Under current environmental legislation, collection is developing rapidly and paper, plastics and metal are collected in a single stream. Currently, we buy only recovered paper; our plants are not yet designed to sort mixed recyclables but we are investigating the development of sorting platforms.

What has been the role of your company in the development of recycling within Turkey?

It would not be an overstatement to claim that we founded paper recycling in Turkey, although we are no longer the largest paper collector. We performed extensive research in Europe and brought the first lift trucks, compactors and fully automatic baling presses to Turkey. Other companies see us as a guiding light - when we were the first to buy Volvo trucks and JCB telehandlers, they quickly followed. They believe that we will go in the right direction.

How far has automation developed within the sector?

We are trying to use as much machinery as possible but sorting the paper grades requires manpower. When sorting plants are set up, machinery becomes much more important and manpower less so. Of course, salaries are relatively low but we have to pay massive sums to the municipal system as the costs of door collection are very high. Sometimes, it is cheaper to import paper from Europe because our costs are much higher.

What is needed to boost paper recycling in Turkey?

The paper collection rate is low because levels of education are still low, and so we are participating in trying to get recycling understood among the public. TÜDAM is helping to create awareness but there has to be a national marketing plan. As in other parts of the world, education levels are also low among collectors and traders but, of course, the younger generation is different - they are better educated than their fathers. Change is under way but it’s not happening fast enough. Today, there are no longer any borders - especially for trade - so you need to know what is happening in the world, otherwise you will be too late. The low level of education is the primary reason why Dönkasan and TÜDAM are the only Turkish paper organisations affiliated to the BIR.

How do you spend your free time?

I am 61 and this is my final year before I retire from my position at Dönkasan. I think I will remain in the sector in more of a recycling advisory role but I won’t work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So I will have more time to spend on private interests and also on my other professional positions. Currently I am looking forward to show our industry to the outside world during the BIR convention and REW Exhibition in June.