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Plastic and foam containers make up much of the garbage littering Haiti. (Antonio Bolfo / Getty Images)

Haiti Says No to Plastic

The Caribbean nation goes green to help clean up the damaged country

By Jared Brenes | null null , null
<p>MAP: Trash has clogged canals in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, for many years. (Jim McMahon)</p><p>PHOTO: Residents scavenge for food at a garbage dump in the Cité Soleil slum in Haiti. (Antonio Bolfo / Getty Images)</p>

MAP: Trash has clogged canals in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, for many years. (Jim McMahon)

PHOTO: Residents scavenge for food at a garbage dump in the Cité Soleil slum in Haiti. (Antonio Bolfo / Getty Images)

The Caribbean nation of Haiti has a major garbage problem. Plastic bags and other waste litter many of Haiti’s streets. Trash has also clogged the canals of the capital city, Port-au-Prince, for years. In an effort to clean up the country, the Haitian government has banned black plastic bags and foam containers, which make up much of this garbage.

Plastic and foam are hazardous to the environment. Animals can get entangled in garbage, which may cause suffocation. They can also be poisoned if they eat it. In addition, these materials are not biodegradable. This means they can take hundreds of years to break down.

However, many poor people in Haiti rely on disposable containers because they cannot afford reusable ones. Protests initially broke out when the ban was put in place because many citizens thought the government was outlawing the plastic bags they use to transport drinking water. For now, those plastic bags are exempt, or not subject to the ban.

The ban was enacted on October 1. Recent reports show that many citizens have not followed the ban just yet. Leaders and environmentalists believe it will take some time before it is widely obeyed.

BUILDING BLOCKS FOR HAITI’s FUTURE

Government officials hope that the ban will reduce cleanup costs nationwide. And some leaders believe that the existing plastic and foam trash can even be recycled into building materials.

Ubuntublox are building blocks made by stuffing recycled plastic and foam into rice bags. Leaders hope to see these used to rebuild countless homes that Haiti lost two years ago during a devastating earthquake. Because the blocks are highly flexible, the new houses will also be resistant to falling apart during earthquakes.

According to Harvey Lacey, inventor of the Ubuntublox, the blocks are also capable of revitalizing a weak Haitian economy. Says Lacey, “There would be work for those willing and able to procure the plastic trash. … And of course there would be contractors who would use the new construction material to create housing.”

Although Haiti has a long road ahead, many citizens are tired of their trash troubles. Stephen Italien lives in Cite Soleil, a trash-filled slum in Haiti. He tells Reuters news agency, “We hope that people respect [the ban], and that the measure stays, because that is what bothers us the most.”

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