When visiting Haiti as a child, I was always baffled at how the streets housed so much trash. It seemed like every side road had a mountain of garbage where just about anybody had to pick their way around. Many years later, though trash heaps still fight to claim areas where creeks or rivers once were, the roads are becoming cleaner and the cleanup has created hundreds of jobs that were not there before. How did Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, turn their massive trash problem into a treasure trove? One millennial, Edouard Carrie of Haiti, took on the challenge while studying entrepreneurship at the University of Tampa. As a student he asked the question: how can we employ local people while clearing the streets of Haiti? Well as they say, timing is everything and as Edouard was developing his business plan two key events took place: the devastating earthquake of January 2010 and an internship.
While the 300,000+ population of Port-au-Prince was stunned by the havoc left by the earthquake, Edouard immediately started crafting ways to help his country work its way out of the rubble. Initially, he considered cement recycling. There was so much rubble and it needed to be cleared before recovery efforts could be pursued. It proved to be too big and too complicated, especially with experienced companies already working in the area. That’s when Edouard started to look at recycling other materials, specifically plastic.
How It Started
With Haiti on his mind, Edouard networked his way to an internship at a recycling facility in Connecticut. As an intern, he interacted with leaders of the recycling industry who came to know about Edouard’s desire for recycling in Haiti. Moved by his determination, a mentor discounted his extra compactor to help bring Edouard’s dream to a reality. Paired with an old generator from his dad’s factory, Edouard had the machinery needed to found Environmental Cleaning Solutions S.A. (ECSSA). But, as any entrepreneur knows, getting the equipment was just the beginning of the challenge.
Post-earthquake Haiti was flooded with businesses, non-profits, governments, and individuals all trying to help with the effort; creating very confusing market conditions. Banks weren’t lending and donations were earmarked for immediate relief items like tents and water, not capital for aspiring businesses. Not to be deterred, ECSSA quilted together capital from international grants and other funding sources to open their doors in the fall of 2010. After opening day, it has been a roller coaster for ECSSA. Success has been celebrated by earning Entrepreneur of the Year Awards every year they have been in business from his alma mater, University of Tampa (2010, 2012) and mega cell phone provider in Haiti, Digicel (2011). Challenges have arisen in the form of accessing equipment and handling supply. Through it all Edouard has built a social venture in a very risky market and made an impact in his community.
Nuts and Bolts
ECSSA aspires to do three things:
1) Eliminate waste in Haiti
2) Teach the Haitian community the value of waste
3) Educate the community about the importance of recycling
To achieve these goals ECSSA has developed a process where collection centers around the country weigh and pay those who bring in a variety of plastics and aluminum. Then the supply is sorted, processed, compacted into bales, and then shipped to international buyers. ECSSA covers the transportation of the material as well as the collection bags to encourage as much participation as possible.
Such a logistics heavy operation requires the help of a dedicated staff. In Edouard’s case, the help of an assistant and his family are doing everything from logistics to keeping up the motivation despite the various challenges that arise in Haiti. Going forward Edouard is leading ECSSA as the largest plastic collector in the country and has learned a couple of life lessons. So what is Edouard’s biggest piece of advice? “Luck is a huge part of starting a business, but you have to go out and create your luck. Don’t get discouraged, because there will be good times as well as bad, but as long as you focus.”
If you want to learn more about ECSSA and the work they are doing in Haiti check out their website at: www.ecssahaiti.com.