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What will become of Turkey and Syria’s earthquake waste?

More than 118 000 buildings were destroyed in the massive earthquake (with a magnitude of 7.8) that hit Turkey and Syria on 6 February. The world has showed an outpouring of sympathy, eagerly donating funds, food and medical relief to survivors. The chapter of rebuilding is a long way ahead.

Disruptions to Turkey’s economy have already rocked the commodity markets – although certain mills have started to bounce back. In the second week of February, an East Coast exporter sold a cargo comprising an unspecified tonnage of an 80:20 mix of No1 and No2 heavy melting scrap priced at US$ 418 per tonne CFR and shredded and bonus-grade material both priced at US$ 438 per tonne CFR, according to analysts at Fastmarkets.

The same mill purchased a second post-earthquake cargo from a separate US shipper on the East Coast on Wednesday 15 February. In this case, HMS 1&2 (80:20) went for US$ 413 per tonne CFR and shredded and bonus-grade material went for US$ 433 per tonne CFR.

A waste management marathon

The most important number, obviously, is expressed in the lives of people. The death toll currently stands at an estimated 50 000 in both Turkey and Syria and that number may well increase as the recovery work continues.

Hundreds of excavators and waste trucks have been deployed to the city of Gaziantep, home to 1.4 million people. They are removing a wide range of building waste, including car wrecks, urban infrastructure and bulky telecom waste. Considering the scale of the disaster, the clean-up operation will likely take months if not years.

I’ve heard that material handler companies are considering donating not one or two machines but a fleet of vehicles and attachments. Imagine how big the impact could be if leaders in this field stepped up to lend their material-handling muscles to crisis workers in the worst-hit areas. As these trucks reflect the latest health and safety standards, it could take a lot of pressure off those tasked with the heavy clean-up duty. The big brands are well-positioned to help out – the global material handling market alone was worth around EUR 210 billion in 2021.

Wasteful aftermath

Meanwhile, environmental groups are expressing concern over post-earthquake waste being dumped in rivers, lakes and oceans. Are these fears justified? Anecdotal evidence speaks of ruined settlements and partially cleared streets lined with waste. Will the new influx of material end up in landfills, incinerators or at recyclers?

Judging from a recent report on the global construction and demolition market, this waste management segment was worth around EUR 32 million in 2021. Analysts predict this will exceed EUR 53 million by 2030. Building materials account for roughly 50% of all solid trash created globally. It remains to be seen whether the European recycling sector will be able to recognise this unusual opportunity to do something good for the people while also serving the circular economy.

Wide-spread support

It’s heartening to see messages of support coming in from all over the world.  ‘We express our heartfelt sympathy to any BIR members and all those affected by this tragedy,’ commented Arnaud Brunet, director general of the Bureau of International Recycling.

‘We encourage all members to connect with NGOs and humanitarian organisations to help in any way possible, whether through donations, volunteering, or other means. We must act together as a community to assist those in need during this trying time.’

The same sentiment is shared by the US-based recycling community with Robin Wiener, president of the Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries, adding: ‘ISRI has donated over US$ 20 000 to the World Central Kitchen as well as Turkey’s official Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). Many of our members are also backing such charities independently.’

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