The origins of family-run-business Haiti Recycling in Port-au-Prince date back to 1976, when Gary Sajous Sr. started a mattress manufacturing business, G.S. Industries. When the business faced increased competition and a changing market, Gary Sr. decided to explore other opportunities to diversify and add to his business. From that initiative, Haiti Recycling was born.
In 1986 Gary Sr. began purchasing nonferrous metals. The business unit began slowly as he learned how to buy and grade metal and about specifications. Initially, he would purchase from peddlers who collected the material.
In those early years, the nonferrous scrap was cleaned, sorted and loaded into 40-foot export shipping containers. From there Gary Sr. sold the metals to yards in Miami, shipping three or four containers annually in the early years.
Seeking to learn more about the business (and to protect himself from downgrades or the possibility of material theft), Gary Sr. would fly to Miami to unload the containers. During these trips his eldest son, Stephan, would gain more exposure to the business by assisting in the unloading. Stephan was already working in the yard after school and on weekends.
A more sophisticated model
Haiti Recycling continued to grow throughout the ensuing decades. The company expanded into ferrous scrap processing in 2003 and then into plastics in 2008. Along the way it also added batteries, specialty metals and recovered paper. Haiti Recycling has evolved into what the Sajous family calls a comprehensive recycling business.
Stephan, now vice president of Haiti Recycling, shares the philosophy that has allowed the company to grow. “We create value out of trash and work hard to create value for everyone in the supply chain,” he says. “It is only by treating our commercial accounts, peddlers, employees and customers with respect that we can continue to add value,” he adds.
Stanley Sajous, Stephan’s younger brother who focuses primarily on operations, says, “All of our employees are eligible for production bonuses. We think it’s important to provide them with the opportunity to share in the success of their departments and the company.”
As the company continues to grow the volume and diversity of the materials it recycles, its business operations also have grown in sophistication. Today, Haiti Recycling’s operations are arranged in production departments—one each for ferrous, nonferrous, specialty alloys, batteries, paper and plastic.
Each department has a manager and supervisors who combine to help ensure strict quality standards are achieved. Further, all material is sorted closely according the specifications published by the U.S.-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) and to customers’ requirements. Employee uniforms are also color-coded for the department in which they work. Blue, for example, indicates a ferrous department employee.
Stanley describes the ferrous department as “a bit of organized chaos.” Haiti Recycling has a huge peddler clientele. Much of this material arrives at the yard on two-wheeled carts. Each cart must be weighed prior to entering the unloading and preprocessing area. As each cart is unloaded, the peddlers sort the material into specified grades under the watchful eyes of Haiti Recycling employees.
Following the sorting, each grade is weighed again and the total value of the load is determined. Each transaction is tracked using software from U.S.-based company ScrapRight that has been customized to meet Haiti Recycling’s needs. Once the ticket is finalized, customers proceed to a series of cashier windows, where each ticket is scanned and the appropriate payment is delivered.
Similar processes are repeated in each of the departments, though Stanley says customers are not permitted to enter the nonferrous building. All material classification and weighing is done at scales at the very front of the building, and tickets for the material are issued, to be taken to the cashier windows.
Grade sorting and classification of nonferrous, plastic, paper and specialty alloys are handled by Haiti Recycling team members within those departments.
Throughout Haiti Recycling, employees make certain the large volume of peddler traffic is heading to the correct department and not straying into restricted areas.
Paying it forward
Ronaldo Leger, who works at Haiti Recycling, Port-au-Prince, lives in a boys’ home run by the ministry Jesus-in-Haiti, which receives operational and financial support from global orphan care provider Back2Back Ministries.
The home originally provided care and shelter for 10 boys that had faced difficult life circumstances. The home is designed to provide them with an education and a safe environment from which they can build a foundation for a better future.
During a recent visit to the home by Bill Tigner, president of U.S. Shredder & Castings, based in the U.S., Ronaldo talked to Bill about career opportunities and what he might like to do when he graduates. Ronaldo, who was unaware of what Bill did for a living, shared that he would like to enter the recycling industry.
With that insight, Bill reached out to the owners of Haiti Recycling. Both firms are members of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) and the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), which allowed Bill to connect quickly with Stephan Sajous, vice president of Haiti Recycling.
Upon meeting Ronaldo, Stephan and his brother Stanley were impressed. They agreed to set up a new internship program for Ronaldo, allowing him to learn the scrap recycling business. He has subsequently learned metals identification and is currently working in the nonferrous department at Haiti Recycling.
Getting the work done
The Sajous family has close ties to the United States and relies upon processing equipment from the U.S. to meet many of its needs.
The company operates Harris Selco and Max-Pak balers within the nonferrous, paper and plastic departments. The ferrous department uses an Al-Jon 400XL and a Sierra 4200 to log or bale its ferrous material.
In the plastic department, the company handles a large flow of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles. Since entering the plastics business, Haiti Recycling has enjoyed a substantial flow of this material. In particular, after partnering with the nonprofit group Executives Without Borders, based in the U.S., this volume has dramatically increased. (See the sidebar, “Picking Up Money,” below.)
Keeping with a philosophy of adding value through its recycling processes, Haiti Recycling operates a downstream PET bottle processing line. It consists of a delabeler, a grinder and a sink/float separation tank to deliver clean PET and PVC (polyvinyl chloride). Each of these commodities then passes through a drying process before automatically being loaded into bulk sack containers for export to the U.S.
As Haiti Recycling has grown, it also has expanded its trading network. The volumes the company handles today do not allow it to simply resell to other dealers.
Through its memberships in ISRI and the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR, in which it has a Gold Membership), Stephan, who handles the company’s material marketing, has built an extensive network of brokers and consumers with which Haiti Recycling trades.
“Who we sell to will vary depending upon the markets,” Stephan says. “At the moment we are selling a lot of ferrous scrap to Vietnam, but we’ve supplied to Taiwan and all over Southeast Asia as well as many other regions of the world.”
“We choose to do business with firms that will support us—those that recognize our quality and our ability to be a consistent supplier,” he continues. “Again, we’re looking for value in a trading relationship.”
Picking up money
Following the massive destruction of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, relief agencies from throughout the world came to the countries’ assistance. Many of them continue to operate in Haiti today, assisting in the nation’s reconstruction and providing aid to an impoverished population.
One of the unforeseen consequences of the massive volumes of bottled water rushed to the country, which continues to arrive today, is the pollution created by empty bottles. Empty bottles fill drainage ditches, backing up water and furthering the spread of diseases such as malaria. To get rid of them, people would collect and burn the bottles, releasing toxins into the air.
Representatives from U.S.-based Executives Without Borders saw the problem and sought solutions. An executive from Dow understood that the bottles had value and helped the group form a coalition that includes the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Dow Chemical, World Vision, Haiti Recycling and many more. The program devised by the group is “Ramase Lajan,” a Creole term for picking up money. The program creates opportunities by creating small businesses for Haitians to run. It also helps to clean up the pollution problem, creates jobs and teaches valuable skills.
Each buy-back center is built inside a 20-foot sea container and includes a scale, 200 bulk cargo sacks, personal protective gear for sorting personnel and seed money to begin buying plastic. The investment to establish each center is provided through numerous NGO and private groups. Logistics is handled through a range of firms that already have trucks operating throughout Haiti. Currently 28 centers are in operation in the country.
Collected plastic is purchased by Haiti Recycling for processing. The company then reports on the performance of each center to Executives Without Borders as well as to the various groups.
Center operators can make a good living: In a nation with a median per-capita income of US$700 per year, the average center operator is earning US$750 per month.
Surviving a true crisis
The massive earthquake that hit Haiti on 12 January, 2010 has created great hardship for the country and for Haiti Recycling.
“The devastation was truly unbelievable,” says Stanley, who was on his way home from the yard when the quake hit. “Both Stephan and my father were out of the country at the time. On the way home, we just began to feel the road move below us and then begin to crumble. You saw buildings fall, and it was simply terrifying.”
Stanley and Stephan’s brother Gary Sajous Jr. was with him at the time. As he had a wife and family, Stanley sent him on his way to try to get home with the assistance of a dirt bike rider, the only type of vehicle that could move up the hills into their residential district.
Stanley turned around and headed back to the yard. The devastation was massive. The wall surrounding the company’s yard complex had been completely destroyed. This left the company’s equipment and inventory vulnerable. Stanley stayed at the yard in an effort to protect things and begin to get a barrier wall back in place.
The immediate need to seal off the complex was accomplished by using baled recyclables to create a makeshift wall. It took the company six months to rebuild a proper perimeter wall. Managers also had to inspect all of the buildings and machinery for damage.
The entire nation of Haiti had sustained a massive blow. The presidential palace collapsed and it took 18 months to clear debris from downtown Port-au-Prince. The port was closed for three-and-a-half months.
The company was unable to ship a single load for one-quarter of the year, and its business had suffered a substantial hit.
Ongoing development plans for the business also had been affected. The machinery for the plastics processing line had arrived in late 2009. The earthquake and the myriad of demands it created for the country and company meant that the line would not be put into operation until April 2011.
The Sajous family, however, sees continuing opportunity and optimism in Haiti, which has a current population of 10 million that forecasts show may double by 2020.
“We have a good government operating now,” says Stephan. “They are very supportive of export activity, which is obviously good for our particular business.
“The roads are better and continuing to improve,” he adds. “Electricity, while still expensive, is much more reliable and development continues to happen. Marriott is currently building a large hotel and Best Western recently opened one as well. We’re seeing signs of optimism throughout the country.”
As for Haiti Recycling, it is mapping out plans to add a second plastic processing line. The current line operates 24 hours per day. Stephan and Stanley also are researching other machinery to increase the company’s processing capacity.
“We see a bright future for recycling in Haiti,” says Stephan. “While we have evolved a lot since 1986, we still have a long way to go and many opportunities,” he concludes.
The author is publisher of Recycling Today Global Edition and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.