What have I learnt from Turkey’s textile recycling ecosystem?

Tulin Dzhengiz (Cengiz)
22 min readDec 8, 2021

About 6 months ago, I started fieldwork to explore the Turkish textile recycling ecosystem. In this scope, I have interviewed more than 50 professionals, mostly incumbent players of this ecosystem, NGO leaders, consultants, academics and many other players. In many ways, this research was eye-opening. So, in this Medium article, I want to reflect on how my awareness was shaped by this research.

Circular economy awareness in emerging country contexts

I want to start by underlining that in the western world, especially in Europe, people hear more and more about ‘circular economy’. If you join any industry event, you will see that global white goods producers, furniture makers, fast fashion giants, automotive players, they all talk about how they are re-designing their business models based on the principles of the circular economy. As a researcher who also studies these kinds of trends and topics in the western world, naturally, you become biased in time and start assuming that the shift towards the circular economy is affecting everyone in the world in the same way. This assumption, however, is very misleading. Strangely, I have realised that in Turkey, some actors who were actively contributing towards ‘circular economy’ did not necessarily know the term nor were they interested in it that much. When I spoke with many SME managers and owners who pioneered textile recycling in a region, they were not trying to greenwash me with the term ‘circular’ at all… On the contrary, one of them even said: “…whatever you write from this research, don't make us sound like angels. We are only doing this because of the profits”. I realised that in order to really understand the context, I had to drop many of the assumptions that I carried with me to the fieldwork. Circular economy awareness is only one of them. Innovation, R&D investments, industry-academia collaborations, strategic alliances… Having researched these kinds of topics, I expected these to be a part of the daily lives of many textile recyclers. This was also not the case there unfortunately for many of the players I had interviewed. So, again, I realised the necessity of focusing on what the field can tell me which would not necessarily confirm my beliefs but on the contrary, reveal the authentic experiences and stories of recyclers. In what follows, after dropping my own misleading assumptions and biases, I shall focus on these honest reflections.

  • 80s: I beg you, please take my waste