TAIPEI - A plastic bottle thrown into a Taipei recycling bin could be reincarnated as a blanket to warm disaster victims in any of 20 countries, thanks to a unique project by the world's largest Buddhist charity.
The Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has been taking plastic bottles from the waste stream of Taipei, a city of 2.6 million, for three years to convert them into about 244,000 polyester blankets intended for disaster zones.
This week, Tzu Chi expanded its one-of-a-kind recycling effort to begin making shirts, scarves and cloth shopping bags.
Based on an idea developed by a Taiwan entrepreneur, Tzu Chi sends the plastic bottles to a factory that breaks them down into a polyester fabric, which is then sent to crew of volunteers who fashion it into blankets or garments.
"They're faster than a normal factory because they're driven by kind-heartedness," said lead volunteer Wu Yueh-yin, as more than 100 others cut, stitched, folded and boxed the grey polyester fabric into blankets and scarves for the next crisis.
Tzu Chi, a private group founded in 1966, has sent volunteers with relief supplies to some of the world's biggest disasters, including hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005 and last year's devastating Sichuan earthquake in China.
When a typhoon flooded Taiwan this August, killing about 770 people, Lee Kui-yang and four family members found all blankets in their one-storey house soaked after they were stranded for four days on the roof.
Tzu Chi gave them a dry blanket made from recycled bottles.
"Initially every cotton blanket and even our clothes were soaked in the flood water, so when we got Tzu Chi's blanket, it warmed our heart," Lee said.
Some of the new shirts, scarves and bags will go directly to disaster areas. Others will be sold locally to pay for other kinds of disaster relief.
"We don't have a firm goal of how many items to make, as we're not a conventional factory," said Chen Yi-chun, a Tzu Chi publicist.
"The most important thing is to make them because disaster victims need them as winter is coming," the publicist added.