I took my first trip to Haiti last September and, since it’s well documented that we’re not in the business of sugar coating things, I won’t lie to you: it was massively overwhelming and pretty jarring. Early on during that trip, looking at the country as a whole, I remember thinking that there was so much work in Haiti to be done. How could we possibly ever make a difference?
However, as I spent more time in Haiti, I began to see the potential that this country had. I met people eager to better their lives through recycling and entrepreneurship. I saw our recycling partners willing to improve their operations in order to participate in the global recycling market. Most of all, I witnessed vibrant communities working hard to provide better lives for their families.
We weren’t the only ones to see that potential. Our friends at HP were on this same trip and met with some of the hardest-working people in our collection network. Once they experienced the First Mile firsthand, they knew they had to help make an impact.
Shortly afterward, our partner HP committed to purchasing plastic flake from Haiti for use in their printer cartridges. This partnership is a big deal to us for a number of reasons, but the biggest one is that they would be purchasing dark colored plastic flake for these ink cartridges.
Why The Heck Is Dark Colored Plastic A Big Deal?
Normally, Thread (or any other company in the recycling business) purchases clear or green plastic flake because those lighter colors are easier to dye. As such, that raw material can be used for fabric or other high quality plastic goods. Because clear and green plastic has a wider range of end-use, it tends to be in higher demand in the world market making it more valuable at every stage that it’s sold within our supply chain (collectors, collection center owners, recycling facilities, etc.).
Dark colored plastic flake is generally utilized in products that just get dyed black. For this reason, darker colored plastic has a narrow end-use, which results in low demand in the world market. This makes dark colored plastic less valuable in the supply chain. Some of the collectors and collection centers owners we work with don’t even bother collecting that material because it’s worth so little.
Our “Two Cents”
Thread was able to bring a customer, HP, to the table and create a demand for dark colored flake. This meant the price of that dark colored plastic increased. Furthermore, we were able to negotiate on behalf of the collection center owners for an additional two cents per pound. As that higher price flows through the entire collection network, more volume is collected. In fact, the recycling center that HP is purchasing from reported a 15% increase in collection volume shortly after the price increase. That increased volume means that more cash is being infused into the collection network, which allows collection centers owners to reinvest in their businesses or use the profits to further support their families.
Thread and HP were able to increase the value of material that was priced so low it was barely being collected. In turn, that same material that was polluting the environment is now being picked up because of the higher price. Both of these factors come together to result in an increased amount of plastic moving through the system.
Progress, But Not Perfection
This shift in price of an already cheap material won’t change the outlook of an entire country, but it does matter to the people and communities we work with.
It’s the first of many steps to changing the independent entrepreneurial recycling industry in Haiti for better. Much like agricultural cooperatives have helped smaller farmers garner a higher price and more consistent market for their products, bringing new customers to the table that can provide consistent demand for large volumes of Haitian plastic will continue to enable plastic to flow through the system and prices to increase.
We believe that these increases will systematically, not artificially, improve the lives of the people we work with and enable them to work themselves out of poverty.
At the end of the day, the use of Haitian plastic in mainstream plastic consumer products is obviously a step in the right direction. However, there is still plastic on the ground in Haiti (and in other developing countries across the globe) while new virgin plastic products are being made every day. Until we’re able to bring more customers to the table to both increase the demand for Haitian plastic and decrease the amount of virgin plastic entering our environment, our work is far from finished.