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Recycling Programs the Tzu Chi Way

I like to share information that makes life more joyful and meaningful. My main interests are health and general wellness in body and mind.

This article explains how Tzu Chi is so successful in organizing thousands of recycling centers around the world.

This article explains how Tzu Chi is so successful in organizing thousands of recycling centers around the world.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The Taiwan-based Tzu Chi Foundation has been implementing its recycling programs very effectively and successfully, and its programs are rapidly spreading across the world.

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is the international slogan to save the world. Are we doing enough to reduce wastage and pollution to protect Mother Earth? The main culprit causing global warming is pollution. Global warming leads to extreme climate change, causing unprecedented droughts, floods, typhoons, and tsunamis. Pollution is man-made and therefore controllable. The increase in greenhouse gases that cause the global rise in temperature is due to haphazard and uncontrolled human industrial activities. So the target to control pollution is to inculcate responsible industrial activities. At the bottom level of these chained reactions of “production-consumption-pollution” is the disposal of waste materials. It is at this bottom level that the idea of recycling was conceived.


What Is Tzu Chi Foundation?

The Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation is well-known throughout the world for its fast and effective relief work during major disasters throughout the world. This international relief organization is called “Tzu Chi” for short. Its main mission is to alleviate people's sufferings across the globe irrespective of faiths, beliefs, and whatnot, without expecting anything in return except smiles. Let us focus on how Tzu Chi is so successful in organizing and operating its thousands of recycling centers worldwide.

In the recycling centers island-wide, elderly volunteers use their retirement wisely, to help the Earth and to enjoy the company of one another.

In the recycling centers island-wide, elderly volunteers use their retirement wisely, to help the Earth and to enjoy the company of one another.

How Recycling Programs Started In Tzu Chi

In August 1990, the founder of Tzu Chi, Master Cheng Yen delivered a lecture in Taichung City, Central Taiwan. At the end of that lecture, there was hearty applause from the audience. Then the Master, in her usual amiable manner, suggested that the audience help to keep the city clean and unpolluted by using their hands that were clapping. She asked that they start doing recycling work to protect Mother Earth. From that appeal by the Master, Tzu Chi has come a long way in these 25 years of overseeing and operating recycling programs throughout the world. In Taiwan alone, Tzu Chi now operates more than 5,000 recycling centers, with tens of thousands of workers. And the most outstanding feature of Tzu Chi recycling programs is the nature of its manpower. At the starting points of the recycling operations at all the Tzu Chi recycling centers, one will witness the great proportion of grassroots elderly volunteers earnestly and enthusiastically concentrating on their work. Yes, all Tzu Chi recycling workers are volunteers, and many are elderly, some even reaching 90 years old! How could this be possible?

The Master, The Steering Force

How did Tzu Chi do it in such an astonishing manner? Credit goes to none other than the Founder Master herself. Understanding the Master will reveal how Tzu Chi is so successful in everything it does. Master Cheng Yen is the charismatic founder of Tzu Chi. With her signature graceful demeanor and her soft-spoken voice, she has been the driving force of Tzu Chi activities since its inception in 1966 in Taiwan. With her down-to-earth spiritual guidance, millions of her followers have given their full support to her charity work, both in manpower and funding.

Author Good Guy wearing pants made from 40% recycled PET bottles.

Author Good Guy wearing pants made from 40% recycled PET bottles.

Recycling The Tzu Chi Way

All across the world where you see Tzu Chi recycling centers, there is this interesting scenario where all the workers are volunteers and many are elderly. This is especially true in Taiwan, where people past their prime are happily working away daily in the recycling centers voluntarily without pay. These elderly volunteers are responding to the Master’s clarion call to participate in “the fertile ground for spiritual cultivation”. The Master likened recycling work to the Buddhist concept of “rebirth”, turning waste materials into useful products. At the same time, they reduce wastage and reduce pollution, making the world a greener and more pleasant place to live in.

Anyone is able to contribute to recycling activities. Who doesn’t know how to separate pieces of paper or flatten plastic bottles? Now the senior volunteers not only can contribute their effort to save the world, they have also gathered together as social units to keep themselves busy and happy. As the Master repeatedly reminds all volunteers that “recycling work helps the body to be healthy, and the mind to be happy”. In fact, the Taiwanese dialect for recycle is "huan po" which means "turn into treasure"! Hence, there is this wonderful saying in Tzu Chi: “Turn garbage into gold, and gold into loving heart.”

Another beneficial program behind Tzu Chi recycling activities is to help depressed people find solace and fellowship. There are numerous stories of how Tzu Chi volunteers were able to rehabilitate depressed people by participating in its recycling activities. These people were either recovering from serious illnesses or going through difficult personal problems. Through recycling activities, these people have been able to recover from their depression and start living a happier life again.

The recycling centers in a way have become the best nursing homes for these elderly volunteers as well as rehabilitating centers for recuperating sick or depressed patients! From here, these “special” volunteers can experience their positive contributions to society, reinforcing their sense of usefulness in life and enjoying friendly fellowship while keeping themselves busy.

Tzu Chi's Award Winning Beds for Disaster Relief

Tzu Chi's Award Winning Beds for Disaster Relief

What Has Tzu Chi Achieved In Its Recycling Programs

Tzu Chi recycling activities are enormous in terms of material volume as well as returns in financial terms. It is also on a global scale. Let us examine two major aspects of Tzu Chi recycling programs.

First is the scale of its operations. Tzu Chi recycling programs are now carried out in thousands of recycling centers throughout the world. Tzu Chi has expanded downstream into turning recycling materials into useful products, mostly channeled through disaster relief. It even sells its recycled products through its own “Da Ai” stores throughout Taiwan. Given time, it is sure to expand globally. By the way, “Da Ai” in Mandarin Chinese means “Great Love”. The most well-known of all Da Ais is the Da Ai TV Broadcasting Services of Tzu Chi, transmitting world news and activities of Tzu Chi via satellites across the world, 24 hours a day. In fact, a substantial amount of the proceeds earned through recycling activities is channeled into Da Ai TV to support its operations.

The second aspect is the production and distribution of useful products from these recycled waste materials. The most significant achievement of Tzu Chi recycling programs is the ability to turn these recycling waste materials into very useful products. Plastic bottles are given “new rebirths” into products that are not only useful but also life-saving as well. End-products manufactured from these recycling materials include blankets, foldable beds, chairs, thermal underwear, t-shirts, jackets, pants, bed sheets, and medical gowns, which are all very relevant to disaster relief work. And best of all, the production of the ubiquitous blue and white uniforms for the Tzu Chi volunteers. There are other products as well such as socks, shoes, bags, suits, bowls, chopsticks, and toys too.

Most of these recycled end-products are for relief programs where they are distributed to disaster areas worldwide. Just imagine, thousands of blankets and foldable beds being distributed throughout the disaster areas worldwide! And all these originated from “waste” materials, mostly from PET bottles!

What You and I Can Do to Contribute to Save Mother Earth

A single bee by itself is virtually useless. But when a million bees come together, it is a world of a difference! When I help in the local Tzu Chi recycling center, I know I am one of the millions contributing my little effort to save Mother Earth. Together we can do it. So let’s start doing our little part to save Mother Earth. Below are four photos showing me busy helping out in my local Tzu Chi recycling center in Penang, Malaysia.

These photos showed me at the station of "greatest" challenge; the first station where raw waste and rubbish were first sorted out. It is quite dirty and messy. That's why I had gloves and was wearing a face mask.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.