The Flipflopi: Kenya’s Response to the Plastic Crisis

THE ‘PLASTIC CRISIS’

Discussion and disapproval of the ‘plastic crisis’ has increased greatly in recent years, encouraging a worldwide revolt against the harmful material. Plastic is a problem as it is a man-made (synthetic) material that takes hundreds of years to break down naturally. Single-use plastic items, which are used once and then thrown away, are the worst culprits. Recycling, where old plastics are made into something new, is the best way to reduce the need for new plastic. However, it is thought that only 9% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled.

Around 60% of globally produced plastic ends up in a landfill or natural environment. It is thought that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. This is a problem as animals become trapped in the plastic or consume it, which severely injures and often kills them. Plastic is, therefore, a great threat to marine life, as well as to the 12 million people in Africa working in fisheries, and the many more who rely on the oceans for food.

WHAT IS THE FLIPFLOPI?

The ‘Flipflopi’ is a traditional Dhow sailing boat with a twist: it is made entirely out of plastic waste. Environmental activists in Kenya collected over 10 tonnes of plastic from beaches on Lamu Island to form the fully functioning boat. Dhows, with their large triangular sails, are iconic pieces of Kenyan culture, dating back 2000 years. Today, the Dhow carries critical environmental messages about the harmful effects of plastic waste and the benefits of recycling. The project is a world first: a cheerful, brightly coloured and resilient reminder that recycling is more important now than ever before.  

WHAT DOES THE FLIPFLOPI DEMONSTRATE?

  1. For Dipesh Pabari, the Kenyan environmentalist leading the project, the boat represents the need for change: “The main aim is to build on the story of this plastic revolution and to continue to highlight to the world that single-use plastic items are dreadful”.
  2. The project also shows that individual citizens can make a difference. Everyone involved in the project was a volunteer. The funding came from individual donations and crowdfunding until the United Nations Environment Programme helped support the expedition.
  3. For the founder Ben Morison, the Flipflopi is above all a mark of African resilience and pride. The materials and techniques used were low-tech and locally available, which demonstrates that any nation or people can protect the environment.

HOPES FOR THE FUTURE

The nations of Sub-Saharan Africa are leaders in the global fight against plastic. Kenya was the first country in the world to ban single-use plastic bags in 2017. The Flipflopi is the latest environmental step forward.

According to the executive director of the UN Environment, “The Flipflopi is living proof that we can live differently. It is a reminder of the urgent need for us to rethink the way we manufacture, use and manage single-use plastic”.

Marwin Ramos

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