Thailand is one of the world’s largest producers of plastic waste, but some local people are trying to do something about that and do so in highly creative ways, to boot.
Enter Phra Maha Pranom Dhammalangkaro, a Buddhist monk who is deputy abbot of the Wat Chak Daeng monastery in a province bordering Bangkok.
The monk has been overseeing an upcycling initiative whereby resident monks have been asking locals to collect plastic bottles and donate them to the temple. The plastic bottles are then turned into high-quality synthetic fabrics to make new saffron-colored robes for Buddhist monks.
The deputy abbot has fine tuned a process during which recycled plastic is mixed with cotton and zinc oxide nanoparticles to make synthetic fibers.
“One issue about doing this is how to cool down the plastic. We mixed it with cotton fibers and zinc oxide nanoparticles and transformed it into a nanofabric,” he told a Thai news organization.
“So this is not just a recycled robe, it is a ‘nano-robe’, using high-quality recycled plastic instead of the low-quality type.” he added. “[A new] robe is made from 15 plastic bottles, even my robe’s belt is made from plastic too.”
Since it was launched last year the monk’s collection drive has helped retrieve 40 tons of waste plastic. He is now hoping to upscale both the waste collection and recycling efforts. “It will be a success if we can call on participation from all sectors,” he argues. “If we are still doing this as a small group, it is not yet a success. It’s just the first step. So I encourage everyone to take a further step with us.”
Thailand is a major producer of plastic waste, most of which is left uncollected or unrecycled or both. Plastic bags account for 13% of locally produced plastic waste, followed by straws at 10% and food containers at 8%.
On average every Thai uses eight plastic bags a day, which translates into some 500 million plastic bags every single day around the country. Several local department stores and supermarkets have pledged to reduce plastic waste by phasing out single-use items such as disposable shopping bags that are handed out freely to customers with every purchase. Yet the country has a long way to go before it can rid itself of plastic waste.
A way forward for Thais involves abiding by Buddhist teachings that encourage thrift and recycling, Phra Maha Pranom argues. “The Buddha became a role model for recycling,” he elucidates. “The Buddhist canon said he made robes from discarded fabric obtained from trash piles and corpses, which he then cleaned and sewed into robes,” he adds.
“Even when the cloth became old, he would use it as a mattress. When the mattress became old, he would use it as a floor mat. He has set an example for his devotees to see how much use they can make out of a piece of fabric,” the monk says.