Ian Rosenberger now knows a few things about turning trash into treasure, but it wasn't until he went to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that it galvanized into an idea that could help people and the planet. "The two things I saw the most there, that I see everywhere I travel, were a lot of poverty, and a lot of trash," said the CEO of Thread International, a company that takes hundreds of thousands of pounds of discarded plastics from distressed areas, employs locals, and turns the bottles into sustainable fabrics.
The process "starts on a heap of plastics in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the western hemisphere," explained Rosenberger. "From there, empty plastic bottles are either picked up or saved, then taken to a collection center, where the person gathering bottles gets paid on the spot by a franchisee."
These collection centers are independently owned and operated by Haitians. The plastics are then moved to a processing center, where they are turned into a clean plastic flake.
"In the U.S., the flakes are extruded into fiber, then woven into fabric, and once the fabric is completed, it is sold to partners [like Timberland], who then turn it into finished goods," he said.
Rosenberger remembers this first time he took the finished fabric back to Haiti, and showed the people made it what the result was. "They saw it, and were like 'What is this?!'"
"I get to see the looks on every person's face as they see it down the line," he added. "I think I have the luckiest job on the whole planet."