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Home Our Missions Environmental Protection Maintaining the Natural Beauty of Penghu - Tourists and Garbage in NIAOYU

Maintaining the Natural Beauty of Penghu - Tourists and Garbage in NIAOYU

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Maintaining the Natural Beauty of Penghu
Tourists and Garbage in NIAOYU
An Old Veteran in MAGONG
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Tourists and Garbage in NIAOYU
When our boat sailed into a small port on one of the isles in Penghu County, we saw a bird sculpture standing on the shore looking out toward the sea. "Welcome to Niaoyu ["the island of birds"]"--a sign told us we had arrived at a little island which used to be home to countless birds but now contains a fishing village.

As soon as we stepped onshore, the smell of fish greeted us. In a large square, some fisherwomen were turning over dried fish with a rake. The scales of the fish, reflecting light from the sun, glistened brightly. In front of a house, a woman was picking and sorting through a basin of spiral shells. Several children were playing not far away, adding merriment to the otherwise peaceful atmosphere.

The houses in Niaoyu face the sea, and the main road of the village runs right in front of the wharf. As you stroll down the main road, you see black barrels every ten meters (33 feet) or so along the way. Turn off the main road and into the alleys, and you see even more barrels standing at the street corners. A closer inspection reveals that all the barrels are full of plastic bottles, aluminum cans, or steel containers. It's a bumper harvest!

Though inconspicuous, the barrels play an important role in the island's recycling work. They guard the environment of Niaoyu like dutiful sentinels.

A landfill about to burst
Covering an area of more than 20 hectares (50 acres), Niaoyu has a population of 1,000. Ever since the first settlers arrived on the island, the local people have made their living from the sea. They lead a simple, regular life, going to work early in the morning and coming home after dark.

In recent years, such a simple lifestyle has begun to change. Since Niaoyu started developing its tourist industry, a large number of vacationers have visited the island, attracted by the basalt formations that form the special geographical scenery of the island. With the tourists comes the garbage. Plastic bags, soft drink cans, and glass wine bottles litter the beach. Recyclable items such as cardboard boxes are piled high in front of the local temple and by the wharf, along with other unrecyclable trash.

Three years ago, members of the Tzu Chi International Medical Association came to Niaoyu to conduct a free clinic. Alarmed by the garbage problem, they encouraged residents to engage in recycling and turn the rubbish into a valuable resource. Responding to their call, Shi Long-er, who had always been civic-minded, volunteered to pitch in.

"I started by collecting used cardboard boxes," said Shi. "Then it occurred to me I should invite others to join me since the work was too much for me to do by myself, so I went to Wu Jia-xin and asked for his help." Shi and Wu, both natives of Niaoyu, lived next door to each other. Besides being a fisherman, Shi was also the chief commissioner of the local temple, and so he was very busy. Thus he asked Wu to work with him to promote recycling work on the island.

Shi also asked other villagers to help. With the amount of garbage rapidly increasing, they knew they could no longer sit back and look on nonchalantly, so most of them were willing to lend a hand. Besides, the village's landfill, which opened only 10 years ago, was almost filled to the brim. Something had to be done to help solve the problem.

Throw them in
Shi thought of a way to inculcate the habit of recycling among the villagers: he placed black barrels on which was written "Tzu Chi Recycling Bin" along the streets for people to throw recyclable resources in.

"These black barrels were actually discarded water cisterns," Shi observed. "They have a large capacity and suit our purpose well. I put them along the streets and told the villagers to put unwanted PET bottles, steel containers, or aluminum cans in them. The barrels are near the villagers' homes, so it isn't much trouble for them to take recyclable items out to the barrels. Gradually, everyone got into the habit of recycling."

"We also collect wastepaper," Shi added. In the past he would buy string to tie up the paper, but now even the string is gathered from garbage. "In this way, we don't produce any more garbage during recycling, and we can save some money." He pointed to a bicycle perched nearby. "Every one or two weeks I ride around the village. When I see any recyclables, I put them in my bicycle basket and bring them back." What he referred to as his "basket" was actually a barrel that had been cut in half--it had also been salvaged from the trash.

After all the recyclables are collected and sorted out, they are transported to Magong, the largest city in Penghu County. "I have a boat, so I could easily deliver the recyclables myself, but then nobody else would have the chance to help. So I asked other boat owners if they were willing to help transport the recyclables, and almost all of them said yes. So you see, most people have a good heart."

While there were people who gladly pitched in to help, there were also people who questioned Shi's motives. He once heard people say something like, "Perhaps he profits from the recycling effort, otherwise how can he be so enthusiastic about it?" In order to prove that he and the other recycling volunteers are not doing the work for personal gain, he makes a point of posting the donation receipts made out by Tzu Chi on the village bulletin board to show that all the proceeds obtained from selling the recyclables are donated to the charity foundation.

"Why do we give? That's because there's love in our heart. I know my conscience is clear, and that's enough," said the sturdy fisherman.

Sorting
One evening in July, Shi strolled down the main road of the village, inspecting the black barrels along the way. "They're almost full. It's time to collect the recyclables and sort them out." He and a few friends got a cart, put a large empty barrel on it, and then walked towards the places where the recycling barrels were placed.

Soon, Shi and his friends had finished collecting the garbage and transported it to a vacant lot by the wharf. Shi then went along the street, knocking on doors and calling, "Time to do recycling!" Neighbors opened their doors and waved to him with smiles on their faces.

Going back to the wharf, Shi and a friend emptied out the barrels packed with recyclables. PET bottles, soft drink containers, and iron boxes cascaded out. Soon a large sea of recyclables appeared before us.

"The neighbors here are very obliging. They always put down their work and come here to help in the evenings." No sooner had Shi said this than we saw several people walking toward the wharf from a short distance away.

Among them was a rubicund, middle-aged fisherwoman named Shi Pei. Wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat and over-sleeves to protect her from the sun, she had come directly from the seaside where she worked. Bending down to the pile of recyclables, she picked up one bottle after another and unscrewed the caps. She moved briskly and adroitly. Speaking of her participation in the recycling work, she said, "As the saying goes: those who have money can contribute money, and those who have strength can contribute strength. We're simply giving our bit and doing whatever little we can." Bathed in sweat, she gave a sonorous laugh.

Hong Yu-hui, who works at a tourist boat company owned by her husband, separated steel cans from plastic bottles while talking on her cell phone. Although she had gotten off work, there was still some business to attend to. "I'm happy to come here and help," she said after finishing the call. "Doing recycling is like cleaning our own homes. In a way, we're helping to save the earth."

"There's so much garbage in Niaoyu," said Shi Qing-shuang, another villager who had come to help. "We should've started doing recycling a long time ago." She has a recycling bin behind her house. When she goes to the seaside to collect spiral shells, she also picks up discarded plastic bowls and glass bottles that litter the beach.

More than 20 people had gathered at the wharf to classify the recyclables. Unscrewing caps, sorting aluminum cans from plastic bottles, stepping on them to flatten them, counting the number of bottles.... With the united efforts of the villagers, the sea of garbage gradually dwindled away. When dusk descended, the work was finished. People started leaving in twos and threes. Shi stood under a street lamp wiping his face. "After supper, it's time for me to go out to sea." When his boat returned the next day, he would transport the recyclables to Magong.

Led by Shi, we came to the grocery store owned by Wu Jia-xin's family. Wu, who together with Shi had started the recycling program in Niaoyu, had died of a heart attack just a few days before. Wu's wife took out a group picture and pointed to her husband in the picture--a dark-complexioned man with an amiable smile on his face. "He was always like that--always enthusiastic about village affairs."

Shi's eyes filled with tears when he began to talk about Wu. He said that Wu was a considerate person who always showed concern for the welfare of others and that he was highly regarded in the village. Before they initiated the recycling program on the island, Wu had been in the habit of picking up discarded glass bottles at the wharf to prevent people from stepping on them and getting hurt. "The pontoons at the wharf were also made by Jia-xin. He fashioned them out of Styrofoam, plastic barrels, and wooden planks to make it easier for people to get on and off a boat." A woman who happened to be shopping at the store gave a thumbs-up at the mention of Wu's name. "Even a three-year-old knew who Jia-xin was. He was a really enthusiastic person."

Needless to say, Shi and Wu played indispensable roles in the island's recycling work. Weng Xiu-zhen, a recycling volunteer, commented on these two good friends: "Shi, full of energy, is a guiding force for the recycling activities on the island. As for Wu, he often did things quietly and was popular with the villagers. The close cooperation between the two was crucial for the success of the recycling activities in our community."

Although Wu is dead, he still lives in the loving memory of the villagers, who will undoubtedly carry on the work he left unfinished.

At the wharf where many boats were moored, we saw the reflection of the moon in the water. In a few hours, Shi's boat, loaded with recyclables, would sail toward Magong in the early morning light.


 

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