Coda

Transforming Plastic Bottles into Fabric

Posted on 14th November 2014

Even before the devastating earthquake that hit the country in 2010, Haiti was already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The earthquake made a bad situation even worse, with 100,000 people killed and another million people displaced. The country suffers from persistent poverty, 40% unemployment and the less serious problem of plastic waste. Now a company based in Pittsburgh, USA, has come up with a solution that addresses all three issues.

Thread was founded by Ian Rosenberger – a Pittsburgh native. Rosenberger has travelled extensively across Africa, Central America and the Caribbean; but it was the poverty he witnessed during his visit to Haiti just six weeks after the 2010 earthquake that changed his life. Startled by the poverty he witnessed and the 9 million pounds of plastic waste generated every month in Port-au-Prince, Rosenberger was keen to find a way of addressing both issues.

Having returned to the United States he carried out research and found that plastic bottles could be transformed into fabric and in turn create jobs to help the impoverished Haitians. Along with friends Lee Kimball and Frank Macinsky they established the non-profit organisation, Thread. The organisation partnered with Ramase Lajan (which means ‘picking up money’) who have a network of plastic collection centres across the country.

How It Works

  • Over 1,300 Haitians have joined the Ramase Lajan program to collect plastic waste. The collectors are able to sell the plastic for cash to one of the 26 Ramase Lajan collection centres across the country.
  • The owners of the Ramase Lajan centres and individual collectors then transport and sell the sorted recyclables to Haitian owned and operated Haiti Recycling in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Haiti Recycling purchases, bales and stores the bottles ready for the production line.
  • Once on the production line the bottles are washed and shredded into a raw material called ‘flake’. This raw flake is then put into large sacks and dispatched to the United States.
  • Production facilities melt and extrude the flake into fibre, spin yarn and weave it into fabric. This fabric is then sold to Powered by Thread customers to be transformed into consumer products.

Results

  • 2.49 million lbs worth of trash has been collected
  • 1,620 people have given employment and the opportunity to generate income
  • 100 Haitians have benefited from job training and professional development
  • 13,911 miles have been eliminated per shipment from the typical supply chain
  • 80% fewer CO2 emissions are released during transportation
  • $165,000 has been generated by Haitian businesses.

Last year the organisation expanded its operation to Honduras and now collects almost 300,000 pounds of plastic waste every month from some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Western Hemisphere.

You can find out more about their work in the video below.

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