From luxury hotels to slums, Haiti's soap recycling benefits all


A hotel worker collects used soap in a hotel room in Port-au-Prince on June 6, 2017.

PORT-AU-PRINCE - A Haitian programme to recycle used soap bars from luxury hotels proved to be a win-win-win proposition by reducing waste, helping fight water-borne disease and giving employees like Magoiana Fremond the chance to send her kids to school and let them "eat every day."

The project, simple but effective, had a remarkable impact.

Laure Bottinelli discovered the idea of soap-recycling while spending time in Southeast Asia.

Inspired to try something similar in Haiti, she and two associates in January 2016 created the Anacaona company, Haiti's first and only soap-recycling enterprise.

Twenty-five hotels were already part of the plan, in both Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, a weekend destination for many foreigners living in the capital.

FILE: Magoina (L) and Daniella (R) work producing soap at the Anacaona company in Port-au-Prince on June 6, 2017. CREDIT: HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP

'Nothing is wasted'

"In Haiti, nothing is ever wasted: poverty is such that everything is recovered, reused in one way or another," said Mai Cardozo Stefanson, part of the management team at Montana, a luxury hotel in Port-au-Prince.

"Normally, the staff saves the soap for their own use.

"But now they collect used bars and give them to Laure.

READ: Recycling a way to a better future

"In return, they receive clean, reconditioned soap bars."

Plus, she added, "with the cholera crisis we're facing, there is the aspect of hygiene education," another part of the work done by Anacaona.

Used soap bars collected from hotel rooms were shredded and melted before being reconditioned, jobs Anacaona's three employees divided among themselves. 

"I didn't come back to Haiti to set up just one more NGO," said Bottinelli, a company head at the tender age of 28.

PICTURE: Packaged recycled soap from the Anacaona company is on diplay at their facilities in Port-au-Prince on June 6, 2017. CREDIT: HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP

Local and environmentally friendly

The new soaps were made using only natural Haitian products and were wrapped in biodegradable paper: the small company aspired to social responsibility and preferred hiring single mothers.

"I can't deny it, the Good Lord brought us this job," said Magoiana Fremond, carefully wrapping a soap bar.

Before, she could not afford to send her five kids to school, provide them with food and pay the rent.

And now? 

"Anacaona helps the country, and me, a lot: my children are in school, they eat every day. Before, I rented an apartment, but now I've started building a house," she added with a proud smile.

READ: Explainer: Why Cholera remains a public health threat

While the first orders for Haitian soaps were sent to French beauty label Yves Rocher, the recycling project now was able to distribute part of its own production to partner schools in Jacmel.

The small company, still in the development stage, was also playing a part in reducing water-borne disease in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas.

With 72 percent of Haitians lacking indoor toilets, the cholera epidemic that started in 2010 spread across the country, killing nearly 10,000 people.

The lack of potable water made diarrheal diseases a leading cause of infant mortality, according to the World Health Organization.

Anacaona worked with its partner schools to be sure they teach basic hygiene rules to their students.


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