SAMUT PRAKAN, Thailand -- With an abundance of plastic waste but a scarcity of personal protective equipment (PPE), Thailand is turning trash into treasure by upcycling bottles into protective clothing for people at risk of coronavirus infection.
Millions of plastic bottles have been collected, shredded and turned into threads to be weaved into fabrics eventually used for PPE, either for hospitals or Buddhist temples, where monks have been cremating 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 where it is very difficult to get hold of PPE suits, sometimes even if you have money, you can't buy," said Phra Maha Pranom Dhammalangkaro, abbott of Chakdaeng temple in Samut Prakan province near Bangkok.
"But now we're making it out of upcycling plastic bottles, so what's trash is now valuable."
Temple volunteers have been sewing orange PPE suits for monks, undertakers and scavengers, and PPEs are being sent to thousands of temples in need across the country.
Though these are not medical-grade, they provide at least some protection for those potentially exposed to COVID-19, and one PPE suit can be made using only 18 plastic bottles.
The fabric for the PPEs is being donated by a textile factory in Rayong province, that usually makes fabrics used by some major global brands. At the factory, threads are made from recycled bottles and spun into a giant roll, then weaved into fabric that gets treated to become water resistant.
"This is so that it can prevent particle dust from seeping through and the virus from coming into contact with us," said Arnuphap Chompuming, head of sales and marketing at textile firm Thai Taffeta, 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 PPEs, which have been sent to hospitals around the country, he added.
The Chakdaeng temple abbot said the upcycling project was helping to ensure more people exposed to the coronavirus were protected, not only medical professionals.
"We're saving lives and the environment as well," he said.