CARREFOUR, HAITI — It’s 2 p.m. when workers leave a room full of sewing machines and plastic to take cover under the trees for a well-earned break.
After they’ve rested, they resume their work collecting and processing plastic garbage that will soon be turned into usable goods.
Reyel Bonhomme is the foreman at Arris Desrosiers, a small company founded by two Haitians who decided to do something about the plastic waste that was invading their town.
“Five years ago, my two sons and I worked in a backpack factory in Port-au-Prince. But when we heard about these two young people fighting for the environment, we felt we needed to step in and lend a hand,” Bonhomme says. “So we joined the team.”
Bonhomme, his sons and many residents of the town now collect any stray plastic they find – especially bags – and turn it in at the factory. Thousands of plastic bags are now transformed every month into backpacks and lunch boxes for local students.
Wilkenson Adrien, a local agronomist and water and environmental specialist at the Ministère du Commerce et de l’Industrie, the ministry of trade and industry, says environmental pollution has a devastating impact on Haitian communities.
“Every second, plastic bags cause damages, including clogging drains, creating flooding and air pollution through burning,” Adrien says, “but the government is not well-geared to turning things around.”
“Arris Desrosiers is offering a ray of hope to this community,” Adrien says, adding that plastic bags can take hundreds of years to decompose, yet they are the most common way that people transport basic goods.
Jacques Beauvil, a member of Parliament who represents Carrefour, says it’s not common today for young people to give back to their communities.
“Those of them with more education are now more inclined to migrate in search of greener pastures, so this facility provides concrete evidence that there’s still a glimmer of hope for Haiti’s future,” Beauvil says.
Photo by Marie Michelle Felicien, GPJ Haiti
Obed Arris, 24, the co-founder of Arris Desrosiers, the company named for him and his business partner, says environmental protection is a call from God.
“If some people have chosen to destroy the earth, we must take on ourselves the obligation to protect it, and that’s why we started the plastic bag collection company,” Arris says.
But the environment is not the only beneficiary of the project, Beauvil says.
The company is making backpacks and lunch boxes that are sold locally. It’s creating jobs and increasing Haiti’s domestic production, too, he says.
Now, the company produces 200 bags every day and demand is on the rise, says James Desrosiers, Arris Desrosiers CEO and co-founder.
“Our resolve to stay the course has been primarily sparked by locals’ motivation,” Desrosiers says. “We’ve realized that people had an appetite for change.”
Ndahayo Sylvestre, GPJ, translated the article from French.