©Bikem Ahıska

When faced with the scale of environmental problems, we might question our roles as individuals in bringing about a positive change. We often forget, however, that it is the summation of our individual actions that can have the greatest impact on the protection and preservation of our planet. Sometimes even the simplest of changes in our daily habits can have collectively positive results. To start this chain reaction, it is important to come together as individuals and join the dialogue on our common future. On 19 December 2018, Climate Change and Environment Portfolio of UNDP Turkey played catalyst to this dialogue in Ankara by organizing an intra-agency workshop on sustainable environment practices, asking how we can start to realize the Sustainable Development Goals in our daily lives.

Main reason for organizing this workshop was the high plastic consumption rate at UNDP offices. As an organization the UNDP is committed to promoting sustainability in its work. The office environment is no exception. If UNDP staff contradict the SDGs and fail to set an example, UNDP projects can lose credibility in the long run. So, taking advantage of the new year, selected UNDP staff were given a one-year long challenge: tracking and reducing their plastic waste. To demonstrate, the CCE Portfolio prepared 150 baskets full of eco-friendly items that would replace most commonly used plastics in daily life. Each hand-wowen straw basket included a glass container (with organic cookies), a glass flask, a metal thermos, a cloth bag, a waxed cotton cloth, wooden fork and spoon, along with booklets and guidelines on ecological living without plastics. Buğday Association for Supporting Ecological Living provided support in gathering the specific items from local craftsman, produced specifically for this workshop. The booklets and guidelines on ecological living were also supplied by the Buğday Association in cooperation with UNDP on previous projects. As an end product, these baskets directly touched upon 13 SDG targets and indirectly created a multiplier effect for 19 other SDG targets.

The workshop opened a much-needed discussion around sustainable living. Led by Güneşin Aydemir, the discussion focused on practical and innovative ways to reduce our plastic waste and manage our ecological footprint. 40 % of all plastic waste is single-use plastics. Plastic bags, plastic wraps, plastic bottles, containers, utensils, and similar, easily replaceable items. They are so commonplace that we may not always know how to avoid using them. The basket challenge provides the starting tools for changing such unsustainable behavior patterns in everyday living. These are simple changes but without commitment they come to have grave consequences on our ecosystem. Plastic waste collects in our lands and rivers only to end up in our oceans. It pollutes our food, our water. It lives on for centuries without degrading and becomes a host for pollutant chemicals. It breaks down into microplastics that are eaten first by marine species of all sizes and consequently by us. The solution is simple: we collect the plastic waste, either to recycle or to eliminate. But even better is to prevent the waste from generating in the first place, often with simple yet critical changes.

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