Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation

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Nov 12th
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Recycling Made Easier

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Article Index
Recycling Made Easier
The conveyor's special creative features
The Stripper
Precious Volunteers' Hands
All Pages
Recycling is often touted as an easy way to conserve natural resources and protect the environment. And recycling materials is easy--from the consumers' point of view. But preparing raw recyclables for resale is more time-consuming and arduous than many realize.

Once volunteers enter a Tzu Chi recycling station, they are constantly on the move. Each piece of recycled material delivered to the station must pass through their hands. There are dozens of steps that must be performed to process raw recyclables, and each must be performed thousands of times each day.

The repetitive motions, the long hours, and occasional heavy lifting take their toll. Swollen fingers, aching muscles, sore wrists and lower back pain are some of the typical ailments that plague volunteers in the recycling stations.

Fortunately, the price the volunteers are paying is not going unnoticed. Tzu Chi volunteers usually provide assistance to the needy everywhere else in the world, but this time two volunteers have set out to answer the unspoken call to provide relief to their own comrades.

"Want to be a good citizen and perform some community service?" Zeng Ju-wen (曾居文), a Tzu Chi recycling volunteer, asked Wang Chun-xiong (王春雄) one day in 1999. At Zeng's invitation, Wang began volunteering at a Tzu Chi recycling station in southern Taiwan. He's been helping out ever since.

At the time, Wang worked in a local factory. After a long day at work, he would rush to the recycling station to join the other volunteers already busy at work. But Wang, approaching 60 years old, soon found out that volunteering was more demanding than he had anticipated.

Most raw recyclables are collected from ditches, streets, market stalls, or small shops. The recyclables arrive unsorted at the recycling station on small trucks. Volunteers manually unload each truck, piling the recyclables into a large heap on the ground. That's the easy part.

Next, volunteers huddle around the heaps to sort the items. This may seem simple enough, but in fact it requires a good deal of physical labor. There are no shortcuts and no substitutes for the manual work, especially at the smaller recycling stations, where large-scale automation is out of the question. Volunteers do most of the sorting while squatting or sitting on low stools, but the repetitive motions required--frequent reaching, bending up and down, standing up, and sitting down--tax even the healthiest of volunteers. There is no question about it: This is physically demanding work.

Volunteers usually work for one, two, or even three hours on end. Over time, working at the recycling station takes its toll on the workers, some of whom are well over 80 years of age. "Repeatedly bending, sitting down and standing up over an extended period of time was hard on the body," remembers Wang.

Wang started thinking about what might make the job easier for the volunteers. He hit upon the idea of a conveyor belt. Although simple, it seemed like a perfect solution. Such an innovation would make processing the raw recyclables faster and might even put an end to the aches and pains that constantly plagued the volunteers. It might even make the job enjoyable.

Unfortunately, Wang knew next to nothing about manufacturing or engineering; he was just a humble factory worker with an idea. How could he make a conveyor that would meet the exact needs of the volunteers in the recycling station? He recalls, "I wondered how I could possibly pull it off. I was actually quite apprehensive."

Although Wang had only a vague idea of how such a contraption could be fashioned, he decided to take the first step and give it a try. He reasoned that the benefits of succeeding outweighed the cost of failure. After all, if he succeeded in building a working conveyer, the design could be replicated to bring relief to countless volunteers at the other recycling stations throughout Taiwan. The worst that could happen was that he would end up with a pile of non-functioning metal equipment that could itself be recycled.

When he shared his idea with the other volunteers, they encouraged him to proceed. It seemed that everyone was looking forward to a reprieve from the current situation.

Using overtime pay from his factory job to purchase needed supplies, he went to work. He used every available spare moment to make his dream a reality. He rode his motorcycle to scout out suitable materials; he examined and studied similar machinery for ideas; he chatted with mechanically inclined friends and acquaintances to gather their input; he even delved into mechanical engineering and ergonomics.

Wang began designing the conveyor with a few basic considerations in mind. For example, it had to be high enough to be comfortable for the majority of the workers, and just wide enough that volunteers could readily reach from one side of the belt to the other. The speed of the belt had to be easily controllable by a switch. Little by little, the original specifications were modified and improved. Slowly, the conveyor began to take shape.

Wang chose to construct the conveyor frame out of light aluminum, but he mounted it on heavy-duty rollers to make the device mobile. For the belt itself, Wang chose a high-density canvas. The canvas was pliable and water-repellant, but actual use quickly proved the canvas unsuitable. The leftover liquids present in many of the containers to be recycled spilled onto the canvas and eroded it within just a few weeks. Without a more adequate and durable belt, the conveyor was useless.

Undaunted, Wang hopped on his motorbike and set out to find a replacement belt. While browsing in a hardware store, he noticed a transparent cover designed to protect the top of a desk. Made of polyethylene, the transparent cover was pliable, impervious to water, and resistant to most solutions. Ecstatic, Wang immediately purchased a ready supply and rushed back to the station. The desk cover was a perfect fit! With that, the conveyor was officially launched and put back to work.

This conveyor has completely changed the way work is done at the Renwu Tzu Chi Recycling Station.

Now volunteers unload the recyclables from trucks onto the conveyor belt. The 6-meter-long conveyor slowly moves the recyclables along while other volunteers stand on both sides of the belt, each one picking out their assigned type of material. Beside each worker are two large bamboo baskets to collect the sorted items. Another group of volunteers remove the filled bamboo baskets for further processing and make sure empty baskets are always ready. The conveyor belt never stops.

At every stage, the volunteers work comfortably. Gone are the days of constantly stooping down to pick up recyclables. Although everyone is just as busy as before, the aches and pains associated with the work have decreased. Workers can now work longer shifts without tiring. The arrival of this worker-friendly conveyor has made their work more enjoyable, and they have Wang Chun-xiong to thank for it.

Wang hopes to install his invention in Tzu Chi recycling stations throughout Taiwan. Giving volunteers some mechanized assistance to make their work easier gives him great pleasure. He is glad to provide design diagrams and assembly assistance to any recycling station contemplating adopting his device. In fact, ten Tzu Chi recycling stations in southern Taiwan have already started using the new conveyor system, with success equal to that of the Renwu station.

Chen Sheng-ren

Renwu Tzu Chi Recycling Station

Ever since the invention of the recycling conveyor, our recycling station has gained a reputation for being automated and worker-friendly. As our fame grows, more and more environmental preservation organizations and communities come to observe our operation. Most of the visitors just want to see Wang's recycling conveyor. We call it the treasure of this station.

There is another benefit, too: Because raw recyclables are placed directly on the conveyor instead of the ground, we have been able to keep our station clean and tidy!

Chen, Xiu-fang

Renwu Tzu Chi Recycling Station

We are taking a different approach to processing recyclables here at the station. In the old days, we dumped everything on the ground. To be efficient, many workers were needed to squat down and sort things into piles. With the conveyor, we no longer need to do that. Moreover, we can adjust the speed of the belt to suit the number of workers. When there are fewer of us, we decrease the speed of the conveyor. When there are more, we can speed it up.

Liu Su-qing

Bagualiao Tzu Chi Recycling Station

The stripper was designed with the users in mind. It is very easy to operate. You just put a wire in, crank the handle, and the wire comes out the other end with its insulated coating sliced open. All that is left to do is to peel the coating off to separate it from the metal wire within.

There isn't much to learn before you can use it. All you need is to observe another person do it a couple of times, and you are on your way.

The crank handle adjusts to the size of the wire being split. Designed for the safety of the operator, the cutting edge is not razor sharp. Even if you touch the cutting edge by accident, you won't get hurt.

Before the stripper came along, I separated the metal core from the insulation by hand. It was very time-consuming. I often couldn't finish my work before closing time. I frequently had to take the unfinished work home.

Now, we sort the wires by size first. One of us cranks the stripper and another manually peels the outer insulation off the metal core. More than 10 kilograms [22 pounds] of wire can easily be finished in two hours.




 

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