The mountains of used plastic bottles at a recycling station in Taipei emit a faint smell of garbage, but soon they will be turned into wigs and clothes that people will wear.
From fake hair to soccer jerseys and building bricks, Taiwan is breathing new life into its massive plastics waste, creating a booming new business at the same time as it aims to go green.
The country started recycling plastic more than a decade ago amid growing environmental concerns, and today it boasts about 73 percent recycling rates, according to the Environmental Protection Administration.
PHOTO: PATRICK LIN, AFP
Last year, about 180,000 tonnes of used plastic were collected and turned into raw materials worth NT$4.5 billion (US$140 million), which cut down garbage disposal costs and carbon dioxide emissions, it said.
“Recycled plastics can be made into many products such as garments, flower pots, wigs and zippers,” said Ma Nien-ho (馬念和), a spokesman for the agency’s recycling fund management board.
“We are not only protecting the environment, but also making money,” he said.
Taiwan took pride in the so-called “eco-fabric” that was used by local companies to make the jerseys for nine teams competing in the recent soccer World Cup in South Africa. Each jersey, made from eight plastic bottles melted and processed into polyester, is 13 percent lighter than traditional fabric and can absorb and disperse sweat more quickly, the Taiwan Textile Research Institute said.
“The production process is also more environmentally friendly as it takes less water and energy to dye the shirts when using colored bottles,” said Alex Lo (羅忠祐), managing director of Super Textile Corp.
Super Textile, a leading Taiwanese maker of eco-fabric, started exporting to the US and Japan in recent years, which gave a boost of up to 10 percent to its business, Lo said.
“The response has been much warmer in the past two years due to rising awareness of global warming and fluctuating cotton prices,” Lo said. “We are optimistic that the World Cup publicity will help stir up more demand.”
Taiwan, which consumes about 4.5 billion plastic bottles annually, is seen as having an advantage in manufacturing eco-textiles because of lower transportation and recycling costs.
The Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, one of the country’s largest charity groups, runs 4,500 recycling stations across Taiwan with the help of about 70,000 volunteers who collected 12,000 tonnes of used bottles last year.
The foundation has distributed more than 300,000 blankets made from plastic bottles since 2007 for relief uses at home and abroad, it said.
And perhaps in the near future houses built from recycled plastic bottles will mushroom across the island after “Eco Ark,” the world’s first such building, is unveiled in November.
“Eco Ark” — a three-story, 24m-high exhibition hall scheduled to debut at the Taipei International Floral Expo, is built from 1.5 million recycled plastic bottles and cost NT$300 million.
“The bottles are processed to make bricks that can resist earthquakes, wind and fire while providing the building with natural lighting to save electricity,” its architect, Arthur Huang, said.
“The ‘polli-bricks’ are also less expensive than conventional materials like wood and glass so the construction cost is much lower,” he said.
Huang said his firm was building a luxury boutique hotel and several factories and corporate buildings with the bricks.
“Just imagine if we can replace all the steel roofs in the buildings in Taipei with light transparent polli-bricks. That would make the city look more beautiful,” he said.
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