ESF Grand Challenges Scholars Program scholar, Elliott Carlson, presents their social consciousness competency on project experience in Arcahaie, Haiti.  They explain how a socially conscious perspective helps advance engineering solutions to pressing problems affecting sustainability.  The Grand Challenge addressed in this competency is Restore and Improve Urban Infrastructure.

The proper management of solid waste is an integral part of maintaining human health, safety, and the quality of the environment.  Currently, wastes in Haiti are poorly managed through the use of the unregulated Truitier Landfill, near the country’s capital.  As the population of Haiti continues to grow, the quantity of waste produced also increases.  A change in the way wastes are managed will improve quality of life and environmental conditions.

SUNY Global plans to develop the Sustainable Village and Learning Community (SVLC) in Arcahaie, Haiti.  This satellite campus would be home to a variety of SUNY colleges and serve as an educational hub for the community.  A partnership between SUNY and local non-profit organizations would create opportunities for empowered Haitians to make social and economic change through education.  Currently, the site planned for the SVLC has very little development and has been used as a dumping ground for municipal solid waste (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Current condition of Sustainable Village Learning Community site in Arcahaie, Haiti

In the final year of the Environmental Resources Engineering (ERE) major, students are required to work in a group to complete a senior capstone project.  My team was tasked with developing a waste management plan for the SVLC.  Using our best engineering judgement and information both provided and researched, we worked to determine the best method of managing both construction and operational wastes.  The final design was determined by analyzing all considered alternatives based on the previously set forth performance criteria.  A large part of this process included assessing each alternative based on the three pillars of sustainability; economic, social, and environmental.  In addition, we used the knowledge gained from the ERE 468 course, Solid and Hazardous Waste Engineering.

Throughout the research and design process our team was in contact with local community organizations who had knowledge of the current conditions and operations.  Using this knowledge, we looked to create partnerships with organizations who have previously instituted initiatives regarding solid waste management.  For example, Plastic Bank and Haiti Recycling supports the Ramase Lajan program.  This initiative enables locals to collect plastic bottles from their community and return them in exchange for monetary compensation.  Not only are Haitians provided with a source of income, they are improving the quality of their community.  These collection facilities are located throughout the country and are typically created from retrofitted shipping containers (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Example of a Ramase Lajan plastic bottle collection facility in Haiti

Understanding the community dynamic in which you are working is imperative when developing appropriate engineering designs.  As engineers, we aim for our designs to be as sustainable as possible.  Through understanding the social, economic, and environmental issues faced in a community, an engineer can better design in order to solve interdisciplinary problems.  By engaging in a collaborative engineering design process, my senior capstone team was able to recommend the best method of managing solid waste at the SVLC Haiti site.  Additionally, through the development of community partnerships, the SVLC will take on a socially conscious perspective to not only advance engineering solutions but improve sustainability within Haiti.