When the owner of the shop appears, Ding fishes out a large, long plastic bag that she has brought and asks, “What do you do with these plastic bags that your disposable cups and bowls come in?” “We throw them away,” is the usual reply.
“Oh, do you? Could you please keep them for me?” she asks. “I’m a Tzu Chi recycling volunteer, and I’d like to collect them for recycling.”
The same request is met with all kinds of responses. Some shopkeepers agree readily and try to make room in their very limited space to store the used plastic bags. Full of gratitude for their support, Ding makes daily rounds to these shops to collect the bags so that they won’t pile up and occupy too much space.
But there are also those who ignore her and continue to discard plastic bags as waste. Instead of giving up on them, Ding reflects on her manners to think of any way she can improve her approach and win them over. Sometimes, she even goes home to change into her Tzu Chi uniform and put on her Tzu Chi commissioner ID card in order to show her sincerity. She also buys reusable chopsticks and gives them as gifts to the owners and employees of these shops.
Moved by Ding’s earnestness and persistent efforts, almost every shop that she has approached, currently over 60 of them, has agreed to save used plastic bags for her.
Ding started her plastic bag recycling work before she retired. One may ask how she found the time to collect from so many shops. She said that before she went to work, she visited the shops along one street and then stored the collected bags in the basement of her office building. At lunchtime she visited the shops near her office, and after work she collected from the remaining shops.
More often than not, the huge quantities of plastic bags collected are more than her motor scooter can carry, and handling them is almost beyond the limits of her physical strength. To stuff all the plastic bags into one big bag, she squeezes and presses with all her might till her knuckles hurt. Although she often receives smelly, soiled plastic bags from the shops, she remains undaunted and patiently explains to shop owners that plastic bags which are too dirty to be cleaned cannot be recycled.
“Though the work is physically taxing, I find joy in doing it,” said Ding. Her effort and hard work are winning the support of more and more shop owners. Some have even offered to deliver the plastic bags to her.
Despite the growing number of supporting shop owners, Ding keeps looking for more. “Whenever I see a beverage shop that’s not on my list, I feel uncomfortable until I check to see if they will join in the recycling effort.”
Now that Ding is retired, she is even more dedicated to her recycling work. She says she can’t do much on her own, so she hopes she can inspire more people to join her.
Source: Tzu Chi Quarterly Fall 2010
By Liu Chun-yin and Zhang Jing-mei
Translated by Ci Huang
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