Monday, March 22, 2010

I Have One Word for You: Plastic

I must get this off of my mind.

There is a wall of garbage in the streams and waterways of the slums of Port au Prince, which floats up after large rainstorms and spills out onto the streets and walkways. This garbage is largely plastic bottles and Styrofoam. I'm not talking a few bottles. Or a few Styrofoam plates. I'm talking thousands and thousands and thousands.

If you ever wondered what happens to that plastic bottle from your springwater, or the Styrofoam container from your takeout dinner, please remember these photographs. The bottles disposed of in these Port au Prince waterways gradually wash out to sea. In the center of the Pacific ocean, there is now apparently an area twice the size of Texas which, due to overlapping ocean currents, traps a floating island of waste. This waste circulates, gradually disintegrates, and forms plasticized sand and particles, now fed upon by marine animals, and disrupting the nutrition of wildlife. In containers that fail to wash away, in the neighborhoods of Port au Prince, small pools of stagnant water are trapped-- each becoming a small, floating incubator in which the mosquitoes carrying Dengue "Breakbone" fever lay their numerous larvae. For a thousand reasons -- aesthetic, environmental, biological, and humanitarian -- this litter has devastating consequences.
There is no plastic recycling in Haiti. Apparently, the President of the country is aware of this extreme plastic trash disposal problem -- so severe that he actually refused the delivery of relief drinking water in plastic bottles in the days after the earthquake.

I would like to propose an idea...but have no idea how to implement it. Perhaps one of you readers might have some idea how to go forth. If a recycled plastic bottle is worth 5 cents American, one could make a massive profit by collecting hundreds of thousands of plastic bottles. Consider paying Haitians a penny per plastic bottle they collect. If the average Haitian makes approximately two American dollars per day of hard labor, it is very likely he or she would be willing to make the same by collecting 200 plastic bottles. Reimburse them a dollar for each hundred bottles. Then take the bottles and recycle them. Grind them up, melt them down, and turn them into plastic tarps. Or turn them into plasticized, wood-like building products -- flexible enough to withstand hurricane force winds and the tremors of earthquakes; such materials are used to make public benches and decks, as visible in American National Parks. There are may ways to recycle and reuse these products. And to do so would get the garbage off the streets and out of the waterways. And possibly provide an income and an industry for the people of Haiti.

Anybody know how to pursue this dream? A win-win-win situation for Haiti?

Anyone interested in starting a plastic recycling center?


  1. Whenever I walk around my middle-class neighborhood, I take a bag with me and pick up all the litter, and, yes, plastic bottles that I pass. (And I quietly curse all of the lazy, well-off individuals who discarded them in the first place.)

    These photos just about knocked me off my chair!

    Most people in Haiti obviously don't have the "luxury" of regular trash pickups and recycling centers...

    I think your idea is a wonderful one, actually. How can we make this happen??

  2. First thing that comes to mind is finding a recykling company reasonably close to Haiti (sorry, I'm writing from the other side of the globe...) that has a strong CSR-profile. If there is a company like that, or maybe another environmentally concious company prepared to sponsor, maybe they could be talked into putting a small recykling station up in PaP and put it on their CSR-account? And hopefully get some of the money for doing that from the "new" plastic.

    Just an idea... will Google recykling companies and see what I can find.

  3. Could Coca-Cola add this to their environmenal + CSC initiative?

  4. This bothered me so much while I was there recently. It seems that a plastic recycling program would be so easy to implement in comparison to some other programs/needs within the country. Let's pray that this is put on the heart of the right people.

  5. I don't know if something like this could work in Haiti, but your story reminded me of something I saw a while ago on the news:

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