Making souvenirs and sculptures are some of the creative ways flip flops littering the Kenyan coast are recycled. Ben Morrison and Dipesh Pabari are, however, taking the efforts of ridding the Kenyan coastline of plastics a notch higher by making a dhow out of recycled plastics and flip flops.
Once complete, the dhow, which will be the first of its kind, will sail 5,250 kms from Lamu to Cape Town in January 2018. Morrison, travel industry entrepreneur and founder of FlipFlopi Project, came face-to-face with the gravity of plastics menace while visiting a beach in Lamu two years ago.
“These are beaches where I would be sending many honeymooners on romantic getaways. Yet they were littered with lots of plastics, especially flip flops,” he says.
Besides the plastic waste being an eyesore, it also posed a huge threat to marine life. It’s while pondering on a solution to the problem that he came across Ocean Sole, a plastic recycling company at the Coast.
They had come up with carvings from recycled flip flops and a model dhow was one of them. The model inspired him to make a real life dhow that would sail the African coast. The boat would serve as a means of navigation from Lamu where the art of dhow-making has existed for close to two centuries.
But most importantly, it would convey a strong message against single plastic use. “There is a lot of plastic we use once and then throw away. Finally, they are washed away into our water bodies,” says Morrison.
By making a moving vessel, they would not only encourage reuse and recycling of plastic at the coast, but also rural areas like Molo where they went to school. Both studied in St Andrew Academy Turi, near Molo, before Morrison left for the UK for further studies and started a travel company.
Pabari who is partnering in the project is also a travel entrepreneur and has been involved in environmental conservation around the Kenyan coast for over 10 years. He introduced an initiative of recycling flip flops to communities around Diani Beach seven years ago.
“The initiative that has been operating independently has not only produced millions in turnover, but also made the beaches cleaner,” says Pabari. He is also the brain behind a recycled Minke whale in Haller Park and a sea turtle in Nakumatt Diani. The process of constructing the 60 feet dhow is underway in Lamu.
“We are relying on expert dhow craftsmen who have been doing this for a really long time,” says Morrison. Plastics collected around the Kenyan coast are melted and then turned into steel molds in the shapes of big parts of the Dhow.
Contrary to the mundane traditional wooden vessels, the exterior of the dhow will have colourful and eye-catching flip flops. Its attractive nature is aimed at catching attention to drive the message of discouraging single plastic use in homes and inspire a plastic revolution.
Traditionally, the people of Lamu have relied on hardwood to make the vessels. The wood is no longer readily available at the coast. Plastics on the other hand, are readily available.
They are also non-biodegradable, thus a durable material to work with. FlipFlopi team is pulling all stops to make vessel more environment- friendly.
“We are researching on how we can make the sail from recycled plastics,” reveals Dipesh. The team is also considering use of fuel from recycled plastics to power the vessel’s engine. Rugs and cushions in the dhow are also made of recycled plastics.