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Sustainable Sanitation in Haiti

University of Minnesota Engineers Without Borders Wins National Award

From the U of M Website:


Engineers Without Borders group helps bring recycling and sanitation to one of Haiti's poorest areas -

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL ( 4/18/2008 ) --

The University of Minnesota student chapter of Engineers Without Borders has been awarded a $25,000 grand prize advocacy award from the KEEN footwear company for the students' work to bring recycling and sustainable sanitation to Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world.


The project was chosen from among hundreds of award entries nationwide.

The University of Minnesota students are partnering with the Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) in Haiti on the project in the Shada neighborhood of Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second largest city. The more than 20,000 inhabitants of this densely populated neighborhood live without access to clean water, sanitation or garbage collection.


The project, which was initiated last fall, aims to clean up the streets by finding a way to recycle discarded plastic into useful items for the residents. Most Haitians transport their water in plastic sachets (similar to heavyweight plastic bags) that are thrown into the streets when empty.


"Our idea is to get them to think of plastics not as waste, but potentially as a material they can use to produce useful products," said Brian Bell, a University of Minnesota civil engineering student and president of the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders.


The students are currently researching water sachet properties and initiating designs of a re-melting system to be tested in Minneapolis over the next year. Students plan to travel to Haiti this summer for an assessment trip and will return to Haiti in 2009 to help the local people fully implement the ideas.


The group's original idea was to recycle the plastic into footwear for Haiti's children, but recent research by chemical engineering students in the group found that if plastic waste was melted and reused, the material would be too stiff for shoe soles. Instead, the plastic will likely be recycled into sporting equipment for youths or for affordable toilet molds to establish a much-needed sanitation system.


"We have some of the world's brightest minds in materials research right here at the University of Minnesota," said David Gasperino, a U of M chemical engineering Ph.D. graduate who now is serving as a professional mentor on the project. "I was drawn to this project because of its focus on using the research expertise we have to help make a difference in another country."


Beyond addressing the needs of waste disposal and sanitation, the students hope to help local Haitians find a way to transform the pervasive plastic waste into a profitable recycling enterprise.


"Small ideas turn into a big difference in many of these types of projects. If we develop a use for the plastic, there will be an financial incentive to clean up and resell it to be recycled," Bell said. "This means people there could start a business and earn money to support their families."

About 20 University of Minnesota students are involved in the Haiti project and are split into two work groups-one focused on indoor sanitation and another on plastics recycling.


"There's a huge disconnect between life here in Minnesota and life in many countries around the world," Bell said. "Getting involved in projects like this is really a sign of what the students who are involved care about, and that is helping people in need."


About Engineers Without Borders-University of Minnesota


Engineers Without Borders-University of Minnesota (EWB-UMN) partners with disadvantaged communities around the world to improve their quality of life by implementing engineering projects that prove environmentally and economically sustainable. The University of Minnesota chapter was founded in fall 2005 and now boasts more than 40 active members working on projects around the world.

This is the work of our university.

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