A group of Taiwanese Buddhist monks are reaping the rewards from recycling plastic waste collected in Taiwan and transforming it into merchandise and memorabilia.
Da Ai Technology Company, who are a non-profit business funded by the Tzu Chi Foundation, collect over 2,000 tonnes of plastic bottles each year, which is around 2% of the total amount disposed. Volunteers in mass descend to any one of the foundation's 5,600 recycling centres to sort bottles by colour, clean them and bale them. After the tens of thousands of volunteers are finished with this process, the baled plastics are crushed into a coarse sand, from which a polyester can be made.
Providing disaster relief
In 2006, blankets were made for disaster victims, but that was just the start of this project. Now over £6 million a year is made in more than ten countries from the sale of Taiwanese recycled plastic products. The Tzu Chi foundation uses a large portion of these funds to spread the word of Buddhism through a news and drama TV channel. Profits are also used for the foundation's disaster relief work, which has taken volunteers to help victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the southern China earthquake in 2008.
Tzu Chi, which literally translates as “compassionate relief”, in Chinese, was founded in 1966 to provide relief work around the world. Branches now exist in nearly 50 countries. It's amazing that baled plastics turned into clothing fibres can contribute to such a massive cause.
A huge operation
Tzu Chi began recycling plastic bottles back in 2006, making a greater profit year on year since then,but the foundation still relies on donations. 2013 donations reportedly exceeded £150 million. The company says that recycling plastic bottles into toys and clothing is not about the money, it's about the love. The message behind the clothing is that you should feel the hard work and love gone into the clothing and want to reward that by helping the foundation.
Tzu Chi say that one tonne of baled plastic bottles can make up to 8,000 items of clothing. They sell these products through 'Da Ai' stores, which literally mean “Big Love”. There are over 40 of these stores, and not just in Taiwan. Some of the products include: a men's suit, a suitcase, a solar-powered USB charger and a personal fan.
Spreading the right message
The message of the Tzu Chi is not to consume more, it's to reduce our plastic dependency. The project highlights the measures that have had to be taken to save this plastic from a less environmentally friendly fate.
Ultimately, when you look at recycling, and you look at Buddhist principles, like reincarnation, you can understand why this project has had so much success. It's in their spiritual nature.