SAMUT PRAKAN, Thailand (REUTERS) – With an abundance of plastic waste but a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), Thailand is turning waste into treasure by recycling bottles into protective clothing for those at risk of infection by the coronavirus.
Millions of plastic bottles have been collected, shredded and turned into weaving yarns into fabrics ultimately used for PPE, whether for hospitals or Buddhist temples, where monks have cremated coronavirus victims.
The effort comes as Thailand has recorded more than 1.1 million coronavirus infections and 12,000 deaths since April this year.
“There are times when it is very difficult to get hold of PPE suits, sometimes even if you have money you cannot buy,” said Phra Maha Pranom Dhammalangkaro, abbot of Chakdaeng temple in the province of Samut Prakan near Bangkok.
“But now we make it from recycled plastic bottles, so what’s trash now has value.”
Temple volunteers have sewn orange PPE suits for monks, funeral directors and scavengers, and PPE is being sent to thousands of needy temples across the country.
While not medical grade, they at least offer some protection for people potentially exposed to Covid-19, and a PPE suit can be made with just 18 plastic bottles.
The PPE fabric is offered by a textile factory in Rayong province, which typically manufactures fabrics used by some of the world’s leading brands. At the factory, the yarns are made from recycled bottles and spun into a giant roll, then woven into a fabric that is treated to become water resistant.
“This is to prevent particle dust from entering and the virus from coming into contact with us,” said Mr. Arnuphap Chompuming, sales and marketing manager of the Thai Taffeta textile company, which operates the factory east of Bangkok.
Some 18 million plastic bottles have been used since the middle of last year to make fabric for PPE, which has been sent to hospitals across the country, he added.
The Abbot of Chakdaeng Temple said the recycling project is helping to ensure that more people exposed to the coronavirus are protected, and not just medical professionals.
“We are saving lives and the environment too,” he said.