A traditional dhow sailing boat made entirely from plastic trash collected from Kenya’s beaches and towns will make its maiden voyage later this month from Lamu in Kenya to Zanzibar in Tanzania – a 500-kilometre expedition stopping at communities along the
way to change mindsets about plastic waste.
The FlipFlopi is a first-of-its-kind, 9-metre sailing boat made from 10 tonnes of discarded plastic.
It has been built by a team calling for a Plastic Revolution to stem the flow of up to 12 million tons of plastic waste dumped into the world’s oceans each year and to highlight the potential for
plastic waste to be re-used.
The dhow was launched in late 2018 in Lamu and has now partnered with UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign, which engages governments, the public and the private sector in the fight against marine plastic pollution.
Nine African countries have already signed onto the campaign, promising to take action to tackle marine pollution.
“The Flipflopi is living proof that we can live differently. It is a reminder of the urgent need for us to re-think the way we manufacture, use and manage single-use plastic,” Joyce Msuya, UN
Environment’s Acting Executive Director, said.
“Kenya has demonstrated tremendous leadership in addressing the epidemic of single-use plastic by banning plastic bags. We are clearly moving in the right direction but we need a drastic shift in consumption patterns and waste management practices across the world,” she added.
Flipflopi board member Professor Judi Wakhungu commented.
“The Flipflopi Project is playing a vital role in engaging the public at large in thinking about plastics differently. They have a colourful and innovative way of talking about the issue – and their message is really hitting home, reaching parts of the population that other initiatives seldom do.”
Only nine per cent of the nine billion tonnes of plastic the world has ever produced has been recycled.
The overwhelming majority of plastics – including plastic drinking bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, plastic lids, straws and stirrers, and foam takeaway containers – are designed to be thrown away after a single use, ultimately ending up in landfills and the environment.
In the recently published “Legal Limits on Single-Use Plastics and Microplastics: A Global Review of National Laws and Regulations”, UN Environment found that 127 out of 192 countries reviewed (about two-thirds) have adopted some form of legislation to regulate plastic bags and 27 countries have enacted legislation banning either specific products including plates, cups, straws, packaging materials like polystyrene or production levels.
Nearly 2 years after Kenya introduced the world’s toughest laws on single-use plastic bags, the Flipflopi Project is playing a vital role in engaging the public at large in thinking about plastic differently.
The project was founded in 2016 to transmit the message about the impact that plastic is having on marine ecosystems, how this affects us, and most important of all – what we can do about it. It’s co-founder, Ben Morison, was inspired to create a visually engaging
Plastic revolution after witnessing the shocking quantities of plastic on Kenya’s beaches, an area where he spent much of his childhood.
“The Flipflopi Project has always been about encouraging change in a positive way, making people smile first and then sharing the very simple message that single-use plastics really don’t make sense,” said Ben Morison.
“To create the Flipflopi boat we used only locally available resources and low-tech solutions, enabling our techniques and ideas to be copied without any barriers. So we hope people around the globe are inspired by our beautiful multi-coloured boat and find their own ways to re-purpose ‘already-used’ plastics,” he explained.
The Flipflopi project team has had to pioneer new techniques to craft the various components of the boat.
The plastic waste was melted, shaped and carved by the team of traditional dhow boat builders exactly as they would do with wood.
Every single element of the boat has been constructed by hand and the whole boat has been clad in colourful sheets of recycled flipflops.
These flipflops have been collected on beach cleanups on Lamu’s beaches, where they are among the most prolific items found.
“We are proud to have built the world’s first sailing boat made from recycled plastic,” said Ali Skanda, the lead boat builder.
“The next challenge is to set sail and inspire people up and down Africa’s coastline and beyond to look at plastic waste not as trash but as a resource that can be collected and used,” said Skanda.
The expedition will start in Lamu on January 24. The boat is expected to arrive in Stone Town in Zanzibar on February 7, where the Flipflopi and Cleanse as teams will meet up with Conservation Music at the Busara Music Festival, engaging festival goers in the fight against marine plastic pollution through music and culture.
In Africa, marine debris represents a potential threat to food security, economic development, and the viability of the marine ecosystems. With over 12 million people on the continent engaged in fisheries, their livelihood is directly affected by marine pollution, and the proportion of protein intake from fish is high across Africa.
During the Blue Economy Conference, hosted by Kenya last month, governments committed to protect oceans, seas, lakes and rivers.
The FlipFlopi-Clean Seas Expedition comes a month before the next UN Environment Assembly in which more than 150 ministers of environment will gather in Nairobi.
The assembly is the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment.
Leading up to the event, UN Environment is zeroing in on the urgent need for sustainable consumption and production and innovative solutions for environmental challenges through its #solvedifferentcampaign, urging member states, the private sector and citizens to rethink the choices they make in their everyday lives.
By Joseph Ng’ang’a