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Teaching Recycling in Factories

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Teaching Recycling in Factories
At the factories
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In the past year, nearly 20 companies in the greater Shanghai area have started recycling programs in their factories. Such factories have been turned into real-life classrooms that teach employees and employers alike--some for the first time--about environmental protection. People who take the classes then become practitioners of and messengers for the cause of environmental protection.

Taiwanese business owners are enthusiastically leading the way in this movement, setting an example as responsible stewards of the earth. But the earth isn’t the only beneficiary of such programs. Reducing garbage, as it turns out, also reduces the operating costs of the companies. It just goes to show that when it comes to protecting the earth, everyone wins.

Booming economic growth has brought prosperity to the most populous nation on earth. But an increase in prosperity has also resulted in an increase in environmental pollution. China used to be able to “spread and hide” its pollution across its expansive landscape, but those days are gone. Yu Bing-yu (余秉諭), who has been involved with garbage disposal and environmental engineering for over 25 years, puts China’s garbage problem into perspective: “With almost one fifth of the world’s population, China produces an inordinate amount of trash. Imagine the garbage produced if each of its residents throws away even just one piece of garbage! As their incomes rise, so does their consumption. Consequently, the amount of garbage produced in China has been increasing by 16 percent per year.” At this rate, the amount of garbage produced will double in just under five years!

The enormity of China’s garbage problem has spawned a new and rapidly-growing recycling industry. Companies engaged in various aspects of recycling continue to pop up. Such companies feed on the materials collected by the increasing number of individual scavengers who patrol the streets or comb landfills for recyclable garbage.”

The saying, “Where there is a will, there is a way” has been proven true many times over by scavengers willing to go to almost any length to find recyclable materials. Some sift through trash cans; some wait beside the stalls of beverage vendors for cast-offs; some excavate old construction dump sites and chisel away cement blocks for the steel bars inside; some even use metal detectors to help them pinpoint their excavation efforts. High tech, low tech, or no tech--you name it and someone probably has tried it to get ahead in this game.

While these individual activities help slow the fill-up of landfills, they are not enough. Individual scavengers only collect items that pay the most money: iron, aluminum cans and metal wire. They don’t bother with materials that are equally recyclable but fetch little or no money. Such overlooked items usually end up in landfills or incinerators, creating more problems. Either they take hundreds or thousands of years to decompose or they discharge toxins into the environment. Something else must be done to address the problem of non-paying recyclables.

A China-sized opportunity
Tzu Chi volunteers want to be agents of change. They want to help people change their mindsets and their resulting behavior. They want to ingrain the idea of “reduce, reuse, and recycle,” so deeply in people’s consciousness that they will naturally and cheerfully pick up recyclable garbage--not because it is profitable, but because it is the right thing to do.

To start, the volunteers chose to approach companies whose owners come from Taiwan. “we can reach hundreds of people at a time if we promote our ideas at a factory,” noted Qiu Li-mei (邱黎美), a Tzu Chi volunteer who works for one such company. There are thousands of such companies in the greater Shanghai area--4,000 in the city of Kunshan alone and 1,000 in Jiading.