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Monday Mailbag: Trash in Haiti

The second installment of ‘Monday Mailbag’, where our team shares the answers to some of the compelling, headscratchingly awesome emails we get on a daily basis.

Questions and answers have been edited for length and enhanced with as many links, photos, and video clips as we can muster.

Have a question of your own? Our team can be reached at: connect@threadinternational.com


Today’s Mailbag:
Topic: Waste in Haiti
Thread Expert: Kelsey Halling, Director of Impact


Question:

I just returned from Haiti 2 days ago. I was on a mission trip in the areas of Mariani and Carrefour. I have been burdened for the situation there with so much plastic piled up everywhere.

I spoke at great length with my local contact while there and asked him about the problem of plastic. He said a while back, there had been an incentive program to pick up plastic for cash but it wasn’t being done any longer. He said the plastic garbage was continuing to pile up faster than they could pick it up.

 

At Thread, feedback and questions are always welcome. We are passionate about our ethical and responsible work and we want you to be as well!
She even followed up with a personal note. Way to be!

I saw your company online and thought I’d write to see how things are progressing there and which areas are being served. 

I hate to see this project abandoned and was wondering if I might speak with someone about the current situation there and the current needs to continue this effort. Please reply, thanks so much!


Answer:

We are still very operational in Haiti, working with individual collectors, entrepreneurs running collection centers and recycling facilities in Port-au-Prince. While collection efforts span across the country – the two neighborhoods you mentioned, Mariani and Carrefour do not currently have operational collection centers that we are working with.

This local collector works at one of the collection centers in Haiti and collects plastic bottles that are re-purposed into sustainable fabric.
“Sometimes people think we’re crazy,” Marie Lirese Saint Jean, Plastic Collector.

Thread continues to make fabric from plastic waste collected in Haiti, and we have a supply chain in Honduras as well. We recently announced our first major brand partnership with Timberland – they will be making boots and bags utilizing our fabric that will be available for purchase in Spring 2017.

We have also recently launched our Maker Site – where makers, small manufacturers, sewers, and crafters can purchase small quantities of fabric made from Haitian plastic. Thread t-shirts made from plastic bottles collected in Haiti on our site as well!

Why is there still such a plastic problem in Haiti? 

There are a couple of reasons.

1) Haiti produces an immense amount of plastic.
Even though we are moving hundreds of thousands of pounds of waste and turning it into fabric, it is estimated that the city of Port-au-Prince alone produces 9 Million lbs of plastic waste every month. We’re just touching the tip of the iceberg. As we continue to grow, and work with major brands whose fabric volume needs are substantial, we will be able to process more and more of this plastic.The recycling centers in Haiti are very busy collecting because every month, Port-au-Price produces 9 million lbs of plastic waste.

2) Plastic prices have tanked due to the extremely low cost of oil.
As a petroleum by-product, recycled plastic is traded as a commodity and subject to global market prices. Right now, because the price of oil is so low, it is cheaper to use virgin petroleum for plastic than it is to use recycled material, so the plastics market in particular has bottomed out this year. We’ve seen recyclers all over (including here in the U.S.) shut down due to these market factors. Unfortunately, this has drastically affected the price of plastic at every level including collection. Individuals collecting plastic in Haiti are earning about half of what they earned 2 years ago. This has discouraged a lot of people from collecting plastic – though there are still plenty of folks earning a living through this work.

The low cost of oil has affected the price of plastic and this has made a big difference to the individuals in our supply chain in Haiti.
Learn more about the effect of oil on Haitian suppliers in our 2015 Impact Report (click the photo for quick access)

3) There is no municipal recycling system.
SMCRS (the municipal waste system in Port-au-Prince) collects recyclables mixed in with general waste, but even general waste collection is not reliable. I’m sure you passed overflowing dumpsters – SMCRS usually has fewer than 20 working garbage trucks at any time to service the entire city. Transportation in Haiti is expensive and unreliable, making it difficult for recycling collection centers located further away from the central processing facilities to operate.

What are we doing about all of this?

We work closely with our recycling partners to implement quality improvements. This allows them to receive higher prices for their recycled plastic, and in turn pay higher prices to those collecting it. The process isn’t immediate, but we’ve seen some success in this recently, which is exciting.

Our staff in Haiti spends every day with the collection center owners – helping them with business training and professional development. We recently rolled out a micro-loan program, which has been operating for 3 months now, to help these businesses stay open and increase revenue. We organize quarterly meetings among our suppliers to ensure that they are receiving training and learning from one another.

Thread works closely with our suppliers in Haiti by organizing quarterly meetings and starting a micro-loan program that helps local entrepreneurs.
Mannique, a collection center owner, prepping for the quarterly recycler meeting last week.

We’re working with our partners in collection, which include Plastic Bank and Samaritan’s Purse to come up with transportation solutions, making it easier to move recycled material from neighborhoods to Port-au-Prince for processing.

[Sign off and pleasantries trimmed for length!]

Kelsey

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