Haiti’s rich and painful history is riddled with economic instability, especially following the catastrophic earthquake in 2010 that destroyed so many lives. Haitians have progressively chased redevelopment since the natural devastation that occurred four years ago. They have taken steps to meet economic challenges head-on, especially with the introduction of a higher minimum wage, industrialization and entrepreneurial youth programs. But it would be careless to overlook the fact that, despite these improvements, this tiny Caribbean nation continues to struggle with certain challenges, namely gainful employment, effective waste management and recycling.
Only 30 percent of people in the nation’s capital of Port-au-Prince are gainfully employed. Central government only picks up 40 percent of the capital’s garbage. The other 60 percent, according to AP reporter Trenton Daniel, “pile[s] up in streets and gutters in impoverished neighborhoods, adding to the nation’s misery.”
Thankfully, compassionate entrepreneurs exist and they’re capitalizing off the mess with eco-friendly recycling businesses that are cleaning up the city’s streets and providing citizens with financial opportunity.
Bags of plastic bottles go for 11 to 14 cents per pound by Haiti Recycling. In turn, the company cleans and shreds the material before shipping it to the U.S. Other companies like Environmental Cleaning Solutions SA buy plastic bottles, water bags and aluminum cans collected by scavengers, and also export clean recyclables to America. Sustainable Recycling Solutions, co-founded by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda, recently received a $250,000 grant from a private foundation of former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Ranmase Lajan, which means “picking up money” in Haitian Creole, provides 26 recycling kiosks nationwide.
Danisa Julien, age 28, and her 16-year-old sister collected four bags of recyclables. After taking it to a Ranmase Lajan kiosk they earned $27 from their pick-up. $27 is nothing to you or I; we can easily spend that on drinks at Applebee’s or on a plain white T-shirt. But for these women, $27 is a small fortune, especially when you consider they make $10 per day selling plantains and rice. And you know how they’re going to use this money? It will help with food, tuition and school supplies for Danisa’s two young children.
Recycling businesses are not only powerful for cleaning up Haiti’s central metropolis; they put money in the pockets of impoverished hustlers trying to feed their families. I call them hustlers because it takes a hustler’s mentality to override powerful feelings of shame and embarrassment people associate with rummaging through trash for money. When your stomach gnaws and your children are crying from hunger, you don’t have time to entertain the idea of being disgraced. You need to put food on your table and you’ll do it by any means necessary, come hell or high water.