“Made in Taiwan” Meets the World Cup

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TIME’s Sarah Tung in Hong Kong writes about how the jerseys being worn by some of the biggest names in the game might not be quite as glamorous as you may think…

Remember when it seemed like everything — from plastic dolls to computer parts — was made in Taiwan? Well, it’s time to add one more item to that list: official World Cup team uniforms.

The Republic of China may not have a team contending for the 19th World Cup, but it can still proudly boast that it will have a strong presence on the field. That’s because nine of the 32 teams taking part will be wearing colorful Nike jerseys that were made by recycling — yes, that’s right, recycling — plastic bottles from landfills.

When Nike first unveiled the uniforms that will be worn in South Africa, the company announced its efforts to reduce waste while delivering a high-performance product. To meet environmentally friendly goals and uniform color standards, World Cup jerseys had to be made and dyed using proper techniques. And for this, Nike turned to Taiwan.

Taiwan is not traditionally known for its green practices. In the past, the island has suffered from heavy air pollution because of a high concentration of both factories and vehicles. (Motorists on scooters, for example, swarm over roads like a Biblical plague of locusts, leaving nothing in their wake except noxious fumes.) But, with the teams newly retrofitted in uniforms that are “100-percent made-in-Taiwan,” the R.O.C. is openly embracing green technology — and announcing it to the world.

According to Vice Premier Sean C. Chen, who serves as convener on Taiwan’s Committee for the Promotion of Energy Conservation and Carbon Reduction, every step of the uniform construction process was carried out in Taiwan. Workers collected polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles in Taiwan and melted them down. From there, Taiwanese manufacturers reprocessed polyester fibers into fabric, dyed, and constructed the clothing.

In all, according to both Nike and Taiwan’s Industrial Development Bureau, which assisted the jersey manufacturers, approximately 13 million plastic bottles were used to make jerseys for teams and retailers. In sports lingo, that’s more than enough to cover 29 football fields. Or, on a more individual scale, that’s approximately eight bottles used per jersey.

The teams sporting jerseys from Taiwanese manufacturers are Brazil, the Netherlands, Portugal, the U.S., South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Serbia and Slovenia. I give two thumbs up to everyone in an environmentally friendly soccer shirt. Since it’s unfair to pick a favorite from one of the nine teams, I think I’ll just cheer for all of them — and Taiwan, too.