Quantifying Degree of Circularity in Turkey: Material Flow Analysis

Tulin Johansson1, Meral Korkmaz2


In recent years, circular economy (CE) has gained significant prominence as a tool to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). Thus, policy makers in both developed and developing countries have taken strides towards implementing strategies and legislations to improve circularity within their respective nations. Most recently, the European Commission adopted the new CE action plan to transition away from linear and towards CE as a means to reduce pressure on natural resources and create sustainable growth. One of the key challenges of devising effective CE strategies into government policies as well as businesses is to quantify the circularity in the nation. This study aims to measure circularity in Turkey at the macro economical level by analyzing the ‘Circular material use rate (CMU)’ as a relevant indicator over time. This study has been conducted using existing data that has been published by Eurostat for the years 2014, 2016, and 2018. Our results indicate that the degree of circularity in Turkey’s economy measured as the share of recycled materials in overall processed materials appears to be quite low, 2.43%, 3.16%, and 4.56 % in 2014, in 2016, and in 2018 respectively. Comparing Turkey’s CMU with other European countries suggest that Turkey must revisit its policies and regulations to improve its circularity and decrease the demand for virgin raw materials as recycled material could replace them.

Keywords: Circular economy, Material Flow Accounts, Recycling.


Shifts towards circular economy (CE) have gained momentum in recent years due to the accelerated increase in the use of global raw material and its subsequent environmental and economic consequences. It is obvious that the capacities of ecosystems are no longer sufficient to absorb the increasing outflows of the material and energy use of the industry. The logic underlying linear economy “take-make-consume-dispose” has been replaced with ‘produce-use-reuse’, a key concept of CE. Many governments and international organizations promote CE as a tool to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by introducing new business models, recycling, resource efficiency and new consumption patterns. 

The mainstream literature lacks a singular, unique definition to the notion of CE. According to the United Nations (UN) GEO5 report regarding CE, designs of material flows can be distinguished in two manners; biological nutrients re-entering to biosphere and materials for reuse and recycle within the economy. In CE the products and materials are reused, refurbished, repaired or recycled, and waste becomes a resource. One of the most recognized definition of CE is Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s (EMF) definition which introduces CE as a restorative and regenerative industrial system with the use of renewable energy and removing the use of toxic chemicals where the aim is to design-out waste. In this perspective the notions “eco-design, repair, reuse, renewal, remanufacturing, product sharing, waste prevention and waste recycling” becomes significant while material losses are reduced through minimization of energy recovery from non-re-cyclable waste, landfill and incineration. Another well-known definition of CE was made in the EU Action Plan that focused on maintaining the value of the product as long as possible in the economy by minimizing the waste of resources and creating further value of the product that reached to the end of its life. Arruda et al. (2021) has reviewed the most cited articles in scientific journals which stated that in literature CE is a condition for sustainability with the greatest probability of favorable economic development and concluded that to reach circularity, the useful life of the resources must be extended. 

The origins of CE can be traced back to Boulding’s book (1966) “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth” which attracts attention to the necessity of circular systems to guarantee human life on earth for the future. However, the introduction of the concept of CE is mostly attributed to Pearce and Turner (1990) that supported the idea of circularity because of unsustainability of traditional linear system which excludes recycling. The first step for the implementation of CE is most commonly known as the 1972 BGBI- Waste disposal act policy in Germany. Germany also played a frontier role in including the CE in national laws with “Closed substance Sycle and Waste Management Act” in 1996. Japan included the concept in 2002 with “The Basic Law for Establishing a Recycling-Based Society” and China in 2009 with “Circular Economy Promotion Law of the People’s Republic of China”. EU’s CE strategy was announced in 2015 “Closing the loop – An EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy”. 

The first CE action plan of the EU aimed to maintain the value of products, materials, and resources in the economy for as long as possible and minimize waste generation. This action plan was expected to increase job creation, stimulate economic growth and investment while also aiding to transition towards a carbon neutral, resource efficient and competitive economy. Report of the commission on implementation of CE action plan (2019) assessed that the transition towards CE is accelerated due to the measures taken by the action plan. According to the report, the path towards accelerating transition towards the circularity is dependent on innovation and investments with a strong stakeholder engagement through circular design of products, empowering consumers (encouraging consumers to change their consumption patterns), turning waste into resources (efficient waste management systems), closed loops for recovered materials (usage of secondary raw materials) and strategy for plastics. EU’s new CE Action Plan published in March 2020 focused on the sectors that use majority of resources and with the high potential of circularity through the transition towards CE. The targets of CE Action Plan of EU (2020) are in line with Green Deal Targets and the new industrial strategy which aims the green economy-based policy changes. 

In order for the assessment of CE strategies, indicators and monitoring tools are required to measure the degree of loop closing. The “Indicators of circular economy” report of the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) collected currently used indicators to a CE from the resources UNEP, UNDP, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Yale and Columbia Universities, World bank, OECD, Eurostat, EMF etc. The report classified the indicators related to CE under sustainable development, environmental, material flow, societal behavior, organizational behavior, and economy performance headings. Economy wide Material Flow accounts (EW-MFA) compiled by Eurostat is appeared to provide more specific information (EASAC, 2016), as data extracted under MFA framework establishes a solid base for the discussion of policies for sustainable resource usage when assessed with traditional economic and demographic indicators.  

There is a substantial body of empirical studies conducted utilizing EW-MFA framework.  Mayer et al. (2018) has measured the circularity of total material and waste flows and their socio economic and ecological loop closing through Sankey diagrams in European Union (EU28) for the year 2014. Bringezu et al. (2015) investigated how a sustainability path for global material resources use can be formed based on existing EW-MFA indicators. Haas et al. (2015) attempted to assess the key indicators of circularity based on the EW-MFA data extracted from Eurostat for the global economy and EU. 

In practice recycling still seems to be the key strategy to reach CE. Although recycling leads a significant reduction in virgin raw material use, where the recycling is very advanced (e.g., metals, paper, glass etc.), it is also debated throughout the literature that recycling alone cannot establish the desired level of CE due to the loss of quantity and quality created by the loop which again creates the need for new materials and energy. Beside closing loops through recycling and reuse, fossil energy sources must be replaced with renewable energy sources and overall resource consumption should be reduced. 

CE policy of member countries and candidate countries of the EU, such as Turkey, are expected to be in line with EU CE plan. Chapter no 27 regarding environmental negotiations between Turkey and EU makes EU’s environment policies significantly important for Turkey. In the context of sustainability, the close follow-up and compliance with the regulations and targets set by the EU is crucial in terms of maintaining free trade between Turkey and the EU through harmonization with EU’s technical legislation. Turkey’s “Green Deal Action Plan” has been published in July 2021, which aims to ensure the adaptation of the policies to fight against climate change and to maintain Turkey’s competitiveness in exports. Hence, it is essential to quantify and monitor the circularity of Turkey to best assess the effectiveness of current policies and identifying the possible future action plans to improve the circularity in the country.

This study aims to quantify the circularity of Turkey’s economy over time at the macro-economic level by measuring the “Circular material use rate (CMU)” developed by Eurostat. CMU measures the contribution of recycled materials to overall materials use, and thus it is identified as one of the relevant indicators of CE under the thematic area of ‘secondary raw materials. Furthermore, CMU has close connection to the Sankey diagram which provides the visual presentation of material flows entering and existing the economy, the processing of materials into products, accumulation of stocks, becoming waste, and finally re-feeding into economy or discharging to the environment. Therefore, CMU is an appropriate indicator for closing the loop.  

The remainder of this article is organized as follows. The next section briefly describes the data sources and the methodology used in deriving the CMU indicator. This is followed by presentation and interpretation of relevant data variables as well as the empirical results of the CMU indicator for Turkish economy. The final section draws upon some general conclusions along with the limitations of the study sketching out the way ahead. 

2. Data Sources and Methodology

2.1 Data Sources

This paper mainly utilized the Eurostat MFA [ENV_AC_MFA] and treatment of waste, by waste category [ENV_WASTRT] data sets that are extracted from Eurostat for the years 2014, 2016, 2018 where 2018 data set is the most recent data available for Turkey at the time of this writing. In addition, while the MFA are available for every year, the waste data is only available every second year. Hence, only even numbered years are analyzed in this study. Furthermore, due to appeared inconsistency in the 2012 waste treatment data set, this study has not included the 2012 and previous years in this study.

MFA data set which represents the input side of the MFA gives detailed information on Domestic Extraction, Imports, Exports, and Domestic Material Consumption for four different materials categories that are 1. Biomass, 2. Metal ores, 3. Non-metallic minerals, and 4. Fossil energy materials/carriers as well as total materials in each category.

[ENV_WASTRT] data set is employed to analyze the output side of the Material Flow Analysis. Unfortunately, detailed waste data is not available for Turkey and many data items are either missing or specified as confidential. Hence, conducting detailed Material Flow Analysis is not possible for the case of Turkey.  However, aggregated data for waste management operations are available for 2014, 2016, and 2018 and thus has been the base of this study together with MFA data set. 

In addition, transboundary shipments of notified waste by partner, hazardousness and waste management operations data set  are used in estimating imported and exported waste bound for recovery in and out of Turkey.

2.2 Methodology

The methodology used in this study is completely inspired by the approach developed by Eurostat (European Commission, 2018a).

CMU measures the shares of materials recovered and re-fed into the economy and it is calculated as a ratio of recycled materials (U) to processed materials (PM).

CMU=U/PM   (1)                                                                                  

PM are all primary and secondary materials used in the economic system and calculated as

PM= Domestic Consumption Materials (DMC) + (2)

DMC includes materials taken into use from nature in Turkey, to which imported goods is added and from which the exports are subtracted.

DMC = Domestic Extraction (DE) + Imports – Exports  (3)

U are secondary materials where recycling is defined as ‘any recovery operation by which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances whether for the original or other purposes and is calculated as

U= RCV_R – IMPw + EXPw (4)

where RCV-R is recycled domestic waste excluding the recovery for energy, IMPw is amount of imported waste bound for recovery, and EXPw is the amount of exported waste bound for recovery.

CMU is the secondary materials as share of PM and can be expressed as

3. Results and Interpretation

The analysis of ENV_AC_MFA data indicates that between 2014 and 2018, DE has increased between 874.122 and 908.534 thousand tonnes representing a 3.93 % increase, while DMC has increased between 932.046 and 987.776 thousand tonnes representing a 5.97% increase between 2014 and 2018. Growing trends of DE is the growing pressure on the natural resources in the country. Figure 1 reveals that total DE increased by 5% but it decreased 1% in 2016 and 2018. Much of the decrease in DE is due to 30% decrease in metal ores extraction in 2014 and 2016. However, biomass and fossil energy materials/carriers extraction has been increasing in the country. Biomass extraction has increased by 16% and 2 % and fossil energy carriers increased by 13% and 15% in 2016 and 2018 respectively. Non-metallic minerals extraction has been steady over the years.

Figure 1. Domestic extraction by resource category (thousand tonnes). Note. Data extracted from Eurostat.

DMC represents the total amount of materials used within the economy and it is equal to domestic extraction plus physical imports minus physical exports. Figure 2 shows the DMC by resource category and indicates that while total DMC has increased by 10% in 2016, it has decreased by 3% in 2018 where much of the decrease is due to 29% decrease in metal ores consumption in 2018. Biomass consumption has been rising in Turkey by 14% and 2 % and fossil energy materials/carriers is also increasing by 45% and 4% in 2016 and 2018 respectively. Non-metallic minerals consumption has been steady over the years.       

Figure 2. Domestic material consumption by resource category (thousand tonnes). Note. Data extracted from Eurostat.

Furthermore, comparing DE and DMC for each main material groups indicates that Turkish economy is dependent on foreign resources and is the net importer of all material groups except for the non-metallic minerals where it maintains its net exporter status.

Table 1 illustrates the four main material groups as a share of total material. Examining the data by material groups shows that non-metallic minerals as a percentage of total domestic materials extracted and consumed is higher relative to the other material groups for both DE and DMC, representing almost 50 % of all materials. This higher rate of extraction and consumption of non-metallic materials which includes mostly construction materials such as sand, stone, granite, limestone, marble, etc. is not surprising given the ever-expanding construction sector in Turkey. About 25% of DE and DMC consist of Biomass that represent crops, wood, timber, fish, and animals. Metal ores constitute the smallest group among main categories.

Table 1 Shares of Materials as % of Total Materials

Note. Data extracted from Eurostat (Eurostat, 2021b).

As the goal of CE is to keep the value of materials in circulation as long as possible, prevention of waste generation is vital in order to reach this goal. Analysis of the treatment of waste, by waste category [ENV_WASTRT] data set that represents the output side of the economy, that the amount of waste treated in Turkey has increased from 79,268 to 134,277 thousand tonnes, representing 69% increase between 2014 and 2016 (figure 3). However, data also reveals that almost 90% of waste treated in Turkey is sent to landfill causing high methane emissions in the country. The percentage of waste treated as incineration for energy recovery is less than 1% and rest has been recycled (figure 3).

Figure 3. Waste Treatment Operations by Category (Thousand Tonnes). Note. Data extracted from Eurostat.

It is also relevant to analyze the recycling rate of municipal waste since it shows the percentage of waste generated by households is used as a resource in the CE. Figure 4 shows the recycling rate (R) in proportion of municipal waste generated that is recycled in Turkey has been increasing from 0.40% to 11.50% in 2018. However, compared to the target set by European commission at 65% by 2030 (European Commission, 2018) Turkey’s recycling rates are quite low.  

Figure 4. Recycling rate of municipal waste.

The CMU, the focus of this study, measures the ratio of recycled, secondary materials to the overall processed materials. Higher CMU represents that more recycled materials were able to replace the virgin raw materials, decreasing the burden on the environment. Calculations of recycled materials (U) which is defined in equation 4, reveals 23,199 thousand tonnes, 33,358 thousand tonnes, and 47,177 thousand tonnes of secondary materials have entered back into economy as recycled or downcycled in 2014, 2016, and 2018 respectively. Figure 5 indicates that the degree of circularity of Turkish economy measured as the share of recycled materials in total processed materials appears to be at 2.43%. 3.16%, and 4.56 % in 2014, in 2016, and in 2018 respectively. The CMU rate for the Turkey has a steady upward trend from 2014 to 2018.

Figure 5. CMU in Turkey.  Note. Data extracted from Eurostat.  

Although calculations of CMU present the increase in contributions of secondary materials into total processed materials by 30 % in 2016, and 44% in 2018 relative to previous time period, the improvement of CMU is partly due to decrease in Processed Materials (PM) (figure 6), and partly due to improvement in the amount of waste recycled (figure 4).

Figure 6. Processed materials in Turkey (Tonnes). Note. Data extracted from Eurostat.  

Furthermore, comparing Turkey’s CMU indicator with those European countries reveals that Turkey is lagging beyond in turning its economy form linear to CE. Figure 7 shows that in many major European countries, CMU rates are between 20%-30% while Turkey’s CMU rate is between 2.4% and 4.5 %. This implies that Turkey would have to take serious steps to   increase its circularity in order to catch up with other European countries as well as to decrease its dependence on primary materials and reduce the burden on environment.

Figure 7.  Comparison of CMU in Turkey with EU Countries. Note. Data extracted from Eurostat.

It should be noted that conducting detailed Material Flow analysis and calculations of CMU for different material groups is necessary to be able to develop targeted policies to be able to increase circularity and decrease the use of primary resources in Turkey. For example, data on domestic material consumption reveals that about 50% of all materials consumed consists of non-metallic minerals that are mostly used in construction industry. Thus, it would be vital to design targeted policies to improve circularity for this group of materials. These include, but are not limited to, designing policies and programs to improve the existence of a market for recycled materials, to increase regional recycling capacities, and to educate labor and designer for using recycled materials in not only in construction projects.   Different targeted policies for all sectors are essential in successfully transitioning into the CE.


The assessment presented in this article was an attempt to monitor the level of circularity of Turkey and track how it has evolved since 2014. The CMU rates showed that only 4.5 % of materials processed in Turkey were recycled and contributed to closing the circularity loop in 2018.  The results indicate that CMU of Turkey has an increasing trend between the years 2014-2018. Besides, CMU rate is growing at a high rate over the years which is promising. However, the CMU rate is much lower than CMU rate of EU (28) indicating that Turkey has way more to go if it is to keep up with EU member states. Currently, the results show CE is far beyond the sight for Turkey.

The analysis conducted in this study is not sufficient to assess the overall CE in Turkey. For a complete assessment of CE, input and output side circularity indicators should be analyzed in a holistic approach. CMU provides an information to have an insight of socio-economic loop closing (recycling waste as secondary material input) while in the scope of CE ecological loop closing (using renewable biomass) should also be evaluated. The slight increase in share of biomass in DMC indicates a possibility of growing ecological cycling potential for Turkey. However, it is not possible to make a proper assessment of ecological loop closing of Turkey due to the difficulty to reach confidential data and lack of data.

The implementation of policies enabling the transition towards CE is inevitable for Turkey due to the global tendency towards CE. Monitoring the success of the policies is dependent on the data availability of Turkey both on output and input side. Further research should be conducted to provide a more detailed dataset upon the reach of confidential data.

  1. Tulin Johansson – Global Managing Director at Spectrum House, Istanbul.
  2. Meral Korkmaz – Machine Learning Engineer at Omdena.