A month ago, I spent three blissful weeks with my sweet love in Izmir, Turkey preparing for my upcoming move in October. I love this country and I especially love the beauty of the Izmir province. Many refer to this region as the California of Turkey. The olive trees line the landscape, the pomegranate gardens extend for miles and the sea coast appears with each turn along its winding mountain roads. Hidden beach coves, fresh water lakes tucked into villages, bountiful gardens and national parks are everywhere; it is a treasure.
However, there is a bittersweet reality with each of the natural treasures. Every time we experience the beauty of this country, I cannot help but to look down and see the abundance of trash. Chip bags, cups, plates, chocolate wrappers, graffiti…the list goes on. It is hard to enjoy nature when the pollutants of humans are stuck in the reeds and rocks and trees; it is an eye sore.
Does this only bother me? Certainly not. Like all things, culture plays a role. Traditionally, citizens of the Ottoman Empire were responsible for cleaning and maintaining their homes. In fact, Turks are highly focused on home cleanliness and personal hygiene. It was the job of the government (sultans) to tend to the city cleanliness. Communal trash bins and scheduled trash collection times are still relatively new to the culture of the country (1). The country is still evolving and making change to address this issue.
In contrast, I’m American and in America such litter would be punished with a fine varying from $100 to $1000 to those caught in the act. But truly the motivation not to litter is baked into the culture of the country. I was taught early on that is is not socially acceptable and we should not alter the natural landscape with things that do not belong in that setting. But this, too, is relatively new to the culture of the country.
In the 1960’s, a campaign called, “Keep America Beautiful” was the main agenda adopted by the First Lady of the United States of America, Lady Bird Johnson. Overtime, many states adopted localized campaigns. Education, research and advocacy continued to gain momentum - trash cans appeared in more public places, fines were enforced and knowledge was shared about the impact of our waste. America isn’t the ideal example - there is still a lot of areas of the country polluted by large corporations, water tainted with chemical residue and individuals with a lack of concern for this issue (2).
However, one thing that my country and education did foster was tremendous guilt about the amount of waste I produce and littering in natural landscapes. Good or bad, that guilt has kept me from throwing wrappers out the window and has shaped my interaction with my surrounding environment.
Turkey is filled with natural wonders, rich resources and verdant agricultural landscapes. I don’t know what the solution is for Turkey and I am sure many are making efforts to revolutionize the standards. But for now, I will continue to do my part: bend down and pick up the trash.
What does your interaction with trash and the environment look like in your city/state/country?