When Tropical Storm Laura swept through Haiti last August, heavy rains and whipping winds pummeled a country that was already reeling from the pandemic and still rebuilding from the devastating earthquake that struck a decade ago. More than six million people live in poverty on the island, where HP, along with key NGOs, has been building a program to support local workers collecting ocean-bound plastic from beaches, waterways, and on land for recycling into new HP devices.
This year was pegged as a big expansion of that effort with the installation of a high-tech washing line at HP’s partner recycling facility Lavergne-Haiti, near Port-au-Prince, which would increase the amount of plastic processed while simultaneously boosting its value on the open market — bringing in much-needed income opportunities for local workers.
But 2020 had other plans.
The storm wiped out the bridge to a facility that supplies HP with recycled plastics, leaving a gaping, muddy expanse where the main route should have been. It was bad timing, and yet another setback, after work was delayed by the global COVID-19 shutdowns.
But the pandemic could not stop the washing line, and neither would Tropical Storm Laura. Too much lay at stake: Hundreds of local collectors depend on the facility for their livelihood, and the project’s partners had come too far in building this essential infrastructure to turn back.
Through a combination of innovation, persistence, and grit, a multinational team got the washing line job done, and it began operating in September.
“[We] were thrilled and breathed a tremendous sigh of relief,” says Ellen Jackowski, HP’s chief sustainability and social impact officer. “We had created a small miracle against all odds.”
A commitment in Haiti
In October, a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony officially opened the new washing line — a moment years in the making. In 2016, HP committed to sourcing ocean-bound plastic from Haiti for use in products such as ink cartridges, consumer notebooks, and mobile workstations. With support from recycled plastic supplier Lavergne and material reclamation monitor First Mile and non-profit WORK, HP began to build a recycled plastics supply chain originating at the materials recovery facility, which is adjacent to Haiti’s Truitier landfill. So far, the effort has kept more than 1.7 million pounds of plastic materials, or more than 60 million bottles, out of the environment.
Diverting the tide of plastic waste in Haiti also means addressing a series of socioeconomic issues. In the absence of a formal garbage system, plastic is picked up by local collectors, many of them women supporting their families. “Relocating a portion of our supply chain and building a new business model in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere comes with a unique set of challenges,” says Jackowski. HP invested in safety and sanitation improvements at Truitier to protect these workers, as well as provided school tuition and supplemental learning centers for the children of collectors.