On Kenyan beaches, thousands of flip-flop sandals are buried in the sand or thrown into the rocks. This environmentally unfriendly plastic is increasingly becoming a threat to Kenya’s oceans and fine sandy beaches. Faced with this situation, Ocean Sole, a Kenyan company, decided to transform these pieces of flip-flop into sculptures and colourful toys.
In Africa, lightweight flip-flop sandals are very cheap and widespread. So, “Rich, poor, everyone has a pair…Because they are very cheap, when a pair is out of order you throw it away and buy a new one…”,says Lillian Mulup of Kenyan company Ocean Sole. However, like much other plastic waste, they are indelible vectors of environmental pollution, particularly of the oceans and fine sandy beaches such as Kilifi, on the Kenyan coast on the Indian Ocean. Indeed, in Kenya, the situation is special because beaches and waterways are considered the final destination of these sandalettes made specifically of foam and plastic.
Ocean Sole and its flip-flop sandal recycling activities
For example, Ocean Sole has launched a business in Kenya that collects used flip-flops from towns, streams, canals, slums and beaches in order to recycle them. To meet the targets, volunteers collect and send the rubbish to the processing plant in Nairobi. According to production manager Jonathan Lenato, every week “about 1.2 tonnes of flip-flops arrive in the capital” and about 1 million flip-flops are processed each year by the company’s 100 Kenyan employees. Hard-working men and women carefully clean these flip-flops and cut them up before handing them over to the craftsmen. Mostly carpenters or sculptors, these craftsmen transform them into sculptures.
In addition, this involves combining the materials of the sandals with polystyrene or other plastic waste recovered in the country. This is how real works of art representing local animals (giraffe, lion, hippopotamus, etc.), toys or colourful decorative objects are created, most of which are sold abroad.
An initiative to fight pollution and preserve the environment
Completely ridding Kenyan and African beaches of people in flip-flops is a laudable ambition and should be supported. According to various estimates, between 19 and 23 million tonnes of plastic accumulate in the world’s waters each year, a figure which, without action, is expected to rise sharply in the coming years. In addition to these materials, used shoes, toothbrushes, biscuit and candy bags end up in the depths of the oceans. Plastics have also been found in the most microscopic of plankton and even in the bellies of whales.
In addition to clearing the beaches of flip-flops, this company is helping to preserve forest resources. For example, Kenyans can now undertake carving activities without wood. Ocean Sole is also committed to supporting local people by offering them work and therefore a salary, in a country where the unemployment rate is around 40%. An initiative to be supported and extended to the rest of the countries on the continent for a successful fight against plastic pollution.