ANNOUNCEMENT
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A Flipflopi Adventure

It's Global Recycling Day… so let’s support the plastic revolution

By Claire Roadley
Published 17 March 2023

Here at Weeva we like to seek out and celebrate those like-minded eco-trailblazers – just quietly going about their business, doing their bit for people and the planet.

One of our favourite recycling initiatives is the Flipflopi Project in Kenya.

Founded by Ben Morison of Far & Wild Travel, Ali Skanda and Dipesh Pabari in Kenya, Flipflopi is a not-for-profit spearheaded by a team of eco-warriors based in Lamu who spent two years building the world’s first and only traditional Sailing Dhow out of plastic waste picked up off the beaches in Kenya. 
The boat was clad in a colourful rubber-soled patchwork of 30,000 flip-flops (rubber sandals) picked up off the shoreline and set sail along the East African coastline in 2019 and then around Uganda’s Lake Victoria in 2021, teaching remote water-based communities about the devastation being caused by single-use plastics and inspiring them to join their movement, known as the Plastic Revolution. We love their passion, purpose and commitment to holistic sustainability. 
Waste collections e1678974832815
Flipflopi Collection Centre e1678974878890
Influence campaign to end plastic e1678974767857
flipflopi completed scaled e1679303902444

Did you know?

 Over 3 billion people across the world wear flip-flops.

A whopping 40% of all the waste collected on Lamu’s beaches during one of Flipflopi’s clean-ups were flip-flops – hence the name … and why flip-flops were an obligatory element of their boat.

Community

The Flipflopi Project is owned and run by locals and provides jobs and income for some of the lower-income people living in and around Lamu County – including paying over 700 volunteers to gather the litter and bring it to their base for recycling.  The team also educates the next generation about why we simply must eliminate all single-use plastics – and reuse and recycle other “better” plastics.  It takes continuous community engagement to change behaviours and build social impact for the 140,000 residents of Lamu County.

Culture

Flipflopi is helping to preserve traditional Swahili heritage boat-building techniques – but without having to chop down trees, which are in short supply! Traditionally a whole tree was used per bow. Now recycled plastic is poured into moulds to get the exact shapes needed for the bows by Ali Skanda and his team of carpenters and dhow builders. Students are now being trained on a 12-week course – including the first three Swahili women!

Community clean ups
Flipflopi sorting waste at centre 2 scaled
plastik talks
Collecting trash mangroves 2 e1678964010164

Conservation

Plastic waste is having a catastrophic effect on our oceans and environment. Flipflopi’s recycling centre takes in around 15 tonnes of recyclable plastic each month  – all collected from nearby towns and beaches around the Lamu archipelago – often dropped off by small boats. In 2022, the project recovered and recycled over 90,700 kgs of plastics in just 7 months!  In the same period, they also prevented over 600,000 PET bottles from ending up in landfills or the ocean – shredding them and sending them for onward recycling upcountry.

Science at sea Researching microplastics e1678965160352

​Commerce

Flipflopi showcases alternate uses of waste plastic as a positive solution to the plastic crisis and the viability of a circular economy in Africa through its education programmes, innovation hubs and advocacy and governance programmes. In 2022 alone, Flipflopi injected over 1.6million KSH in cash into low-income communities – just for purchasing plastics, inspiring a new “waste is wealth” mantra. Fourteen people (43% female) are employed full time at the recycling centre – with a community-led network of around 700 litter pickers as part of their UKAID funded SMEP Program.

On the commercial side, once the waste is sorted and shredded, it is used as “feedstock” where it’s made into plastic lumber, which is being used to manufacture a variety of different products including benches, hand carts, doors,  traditional Lamu furniture, fencing, construction – and of course, sailing vessels – will be sold for profit to fund and sustain the movement. The ‘green wood’ market is gathering momentum – and saving trees!  This change in mindset when it comes to the value of plastics is key to ensuring they are reduced, reused and recycled rather than wasted.

No time to waste

For every piece of plastic picked up on a Kenyan beach, the ocean tide brings in five new pieces.  This is a 5-minute film that shows why local communities in places like Lamu, Kenya are taking matters into their own hands when dealing with waste management.  Watch it here… (video footage courtesy of Flipflopi)

Do you know which are the peskiest plastics for our planet?

The annual mass of plastic production and mismanaged waste is projected to more than double by 2050.  We are currently producing a record amount of single-use plastic (SUP) waste despite global efforts to reduce plastic pollution and carbon emissions. These are some of the worst SUPs:

  • Microbeads in cosmetics
  • Polythene and plastic bags
  • Food containers (plates and bowls)
  • Cutlery
  • Expanded polystyrene

In a 2021 Lamu archipelago macro litter study, 69% of the waste collected was plastic with the second-most common item being flip-flops or rubber sandals. 

Over a third of the plastics collected on Lamu’s beaches are PET (plastic bottles) which cannot be recycled on-site – so they are shredded and sent to other plants in Kenya. HDPE, LDPE, PP are all recycled at Flipflopi.  Unfortunately, it isn’t currently possible to recycle ABS, PVC and PS. Please think long and hard before buying these products…

The macroplastic study was led by CORDIO East Africa with support from the Watamu Marine Association, and the University of Portsmouth, UK.

Every bit counts… 

A recent study by Lau et al. established that 78% of the plastic pollution problem could be solved by 2040  – but only if all the possible reduction pathways are followed: that means reducing consumption, increasing reuse, waste collection and recycling, and accelerating innovation in the plastic value chain.

What’s next?

In 2023 the team will innovate in heritage boat building with the launch of construction of the much bigger Flipflopi Kubwa which will sail around the oceans, leading to unparalleled levels of community and policymaker engagement, development of locally grown circular economies, and bans of unnecessary single-use plastics…  After six years of successful sailing expeditions, Flipflopi Ndogo will be put into maintenance and used as a prototype for improvements and for engineering Kubwa.

orange weeva pointing

Well done to Flipflopi on your amazing achievements to date. We look forward to see your future contributions to #WasteReduction.

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