Muwekma Ohlone chairwoman delivers relief supplies to earthquake-stricken region of Turkey

Chairwoman Nijmeh distributing relief supplies.

(March 23, 2023) — Charlene Nijmeh, the founder and chairwoman of the Green Education Foundation — a leading California-based textile recycler that diverts more than 50 million pounds from landfills annually — is in Turkey this week delivering badly needed relief supplies to earthquake-stricken regions.

“The partnership between the Turkish people and the United States is a strong and enduring one.  It’s a relationship that is critical to global security.  It’s one of the most important bi-lateral relationships in the world,” she told local reporters.

Official estimates put the death toll at 50,000.  The actual death toll could be as high as 200,000.  Millions remain homeless or displaced.

“Friends are there for each other when in need.  That’s why I’m here in Turkey delivering relief supplies to people impacted by the devastation.  There is much more that Americans and the United States can and must do to help the Turkish people,” she added.

In some communities, more than one-third of all buildings were destroyed.

Nijmeh predicts that the reconstruction process will take a decade, but is optimistic that — if Turkey and the United States grow closer together — that the Bay Area can play a big role in helping the Turkish people lay modern infrastructure systems and to rebuild in a way that brings extraordinary new economic opportunities to the Turkish Syrian border.

Chairwoman Nijmeh was kind enough to sit for questions with The Inquirer. 

Why are you in Turkey?

I’m here to distribute clothing, blankets, and relief supplies directly to people impacted by this devastating earthquake.   The relationship between America and Turkey is a strong and enduring one, and this is what friends do.  It’s important that Americans support the region’s long-term economic reconstruction, and strengthens the ties between our peoples.  An even closer relationship will bring stability and progress to the region.

What does your company do here in Turkey?

Our company has unique capabilities in global recycling logistics.  Because of the work we do in textile recycling in the region, we are able to distribute needed supplies to the most vulnerable populations very quickly and very efficiently.  Help is on the way.

Tell us about your environmental work?

Globally, we divert well upwards of 50 million tons of used textiles from landfills ever year.  It’s an enormous success in landfill diversion – every single year.  The textiles that cannot be reused and resold are reprocessed into fiber and repurposed for all sorts of consumer products, from carpet underlay, to mattresses, to housing insulation.

How can the Bay Area business community play a role in the region’s reconstruction?

The Bay Area is home to the most innovative and forward thinking companies in the world.  Turkey wants to rebuild better than it’s ever been before.  The Bay Area has new infrastructure technologies that we can bring to Turkey – from high-speed satellite Internet service, to Elon Musk’s hyper loop, and driverless cars.  And trade relationships are just the beginning.

Why does your company focus on textiles specifically?

The textile industry is considered the most ecologically harmful industry in the world.  It is the second largest polluting industry in the world after oil and gas. Cotton is a thirsty crop.  It requires 2,700 liters of water to make one T-shirt. That’s what one person drinks in 2.5 years.  The world uses 1.3 trillion gallons of water each year for fabric dyeing alone. In areas already facing water stress, this can be particularly damaging.  Recycling textiles is critically important to protecting the environment.

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