Taiwan charity delivers eco-blankets to disaster victims in Haiti, soon in Pakistan

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — A Taiwanese Buddhist charity is helping disaster victims stay warm — and eco-friendly — with fleece blankets made from recycled plastic bottles.

The Tzu Chi Foundation, known for performing good works for those in need, dispatched thousands of the eco-blankets to survivors of this year's massive earthquake in Haiti and soon will be shipping more to flood survivors in Pakistan.

Thousands of volunteers produce the blankets after washing and sorting plastic bottles at garbage yards around Taiwan.

Retiree Lan Li-yue says she and her co-workers are happy to work for free because they are heeding a call from Tzu Chi head Cheng Yen to reduce non-biodegradable garbage to a minimum.

"Others had given up turning recycled bottles into blankets because of the high wage bill involved," she said. "But we do the work for nothing."

Even without wage costs, producting the eco-friendly blankets costs three to five times what conventional blankets cost to produce, but Tzu Chi insists the expenditure is well worth it.

Foundation official Liu Tsong-yen says the process makes a lasting product out of garbage. "We try not to recycle pollution in dispensing our aid items," Liu said. "People don't dump our blankets after use like they do with plastic bottles."

The blankets are produced at Taiwanese textile factories that collaborate with a company Tzu Chi established to make a series of eco-friendly items, including shirts, scarfs and tote bags. The finished blankets are grey, and, after being cut from huge rolls, measure about two meters by two meters (six feet by six feet).

Much of Tzu Chi's success stems from its transparency in dispensing funds and its efforts to ensure that aid items go to those who need them most.

Liu said the blankets will be distributed, along with food and medical supplies, next month after staff inspects afflicted areas to get the lay of the land.

"We hand-deliver items directly victims to avoid waste and dislocation," he said.