Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation

Oct 01st
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Home Our Missions Environmental Protection Garbage in Paradise - Make recycling everybody's business

Garbage in Paradise - Make recycling everybody's business

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Garbage in Paradise
An expanding program
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Make recycling everybody's business
"What we are after is not so much to maximize the volume of recyclable trash as to spread the notion that you should always be mindful of the environmental impact behind everything that you do," Teoh commented. "Make this thought process a subconscious part of everybody's life, and everybody can begin to lower his or her negative environmental impact."

"The more I work with recycling, the more I appreciate why the Master said that we are running out of time." Teoh said that in the earlier years of the recycling program, they took the "charity" angle to get people to join in the ranks of recycling volunteers: Proceeds from the sale of the trash would be used to help those in need. That was fine and well except that they weren't reaching enough people. Most of the people who took part in the recycling program were Tzu Chi members. They needed other people to join in, too, which, they figured, could be achieved if people were well informed of the nature and magnitude of the pressing issues facing the earth. "Consequently, we are now running the Tzu Chi recycling program from an educational angle: The more people know about the problems, the more they will pitch in."

Teoh recounted his experience with the first community gathering that he organized to introduce the concept of recycling to that community. He had told as many people about it as he could, but "only my family and I showed up," Teoh remembered. "Ahough I felt extremely down, I persisted. Thankfully, Brother Sim Boon Peng (沈文平) later joined in, and he was able to bring more people to the community gatherings. The gatherings work very well, so we have achieved a 20 percent drop in the garbage volume in our communities."

As more people supplied their so-called recyclables to Tzu Chi, more of their other garbage was handed over too. Many people eagerly gave their bags of waste to volunteers, who were unaware that they had also put some non-recyclable garbage in the bags. Other people mixed recyclables of all types into the same bag. Either case was quite troublesome for the recycling program because it took volunteers a lot of time to go through each of the bags and either pick out and throw away the real garbage or properly sort out the recyclables. This waste of time and effort could have been avoided had those people known how to sort things out in the first place.

Apparently, the lectures and information sharing at those community gatherings had fallen short of fully educating the public. More creative ways were needed to fill the gaps. Sim Boon Peng thought that the best way to improve the efficiency of recycling was to encourage people to sort garbage out in their own homes. But how do you create a home environment that lends itself to more convenient sorting and storing of items? How about garbage bags with racks to hold them in place? In this way, these neat and eye-pleasing sets would replace the sagging and unsightly bags that you usually find lying on the floors of people's homes, and sorting out and storing recyclables would be a cinch. All that people would need to do was drop their items in the appropriate bags. In the end, Sim made not one but three versions of those handsome bag-and-rack sets, each version an improvement over the last (see the article on page 40).

Since then Tzu Chi volunteers have been promoting and giving out those bag/rack sets to the public. Individuals take them home, and even some businesses are using them, thus increasing the sources of recyclables. Sim even took his brainchild to a nearby school, where he won the support of principal Yeoh Soon Kheng (楊順慶) and teacher Tan Ah Cheng (陳亞清). Tan asks her students to sort out garbage in the appropriate bags. She checks their efforts every day to make sure they are doing it and doing it right. She thinks little of the extra time that this takes her: "It's important to teach students when they're still young to think twice before throwing anything away. Only when people cherish the earth's resources can our environment be preserved."

The report card
Penang Island, like any other locale, undoubtedly still has lots of room for improvement when it comes to being earth-friendly. Nevertheless, the island's progressive environmental protection measures are showing the way for the rest of the country. Malaysia officially started its recycling programs in 2000. In eight short years, the recycling rate of Penang Island shot up from .05 percent to 18 percent, the highest in the nation. Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon, former chief minister of Penang, said that the state had Tzu Chi to thank for its shiny report card in recycling.

When you know you are doing something worthwhile, you don't mind how much effort it takes. It is this realization that keeps Tzu Chi recycling volunteers in Penang Island going.

By Lai Yi-lin
Translated by Tang Yau-yang
Photographs by Yan Lin-zhao


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