Flipflopi shows value of creating circular economy for plastics

For much of the last three weeks, the Flipflopi, a dhow made from recycled plastic, including a helping of old sandals, has been calling into ports across Lake Victoria. The crew of the 10-metre-long vessel is on a mission to raise awareness about a tide of plastic choking Africa’s biggest lake – and to demonstrate that trash can be turned into treasure.

“Flipflopi was built to show the world that it is possible to make valuable materials out of waste plastic,” said Ali Skanda, co-founder of the Flipflopi.

The boat’s voyage, which is supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), comes at a critical time for both Lake Victoria and Kenya, says Llorenç Milà I Canals, the head of UNEP’s Life Cycle Initiative.

A recent report by UNEP found that 27 per cent of plastic waste in Kenya is collected and, of that, only 7 per cent is recycled in the country.

The problem is global. Humanity’s penchant for producing cheap plastic products, using them, and then throwing them away, has created a global pollution crisis that is threatening the natural world and human livelihood.

 “If you accept that you can extract a resource and dispose of it, and sell it cheaply without paying the externalities, you are directly subsidizing the cost of compromising the environment,” says Milà I Canals. “We are getting things super cheap, but only paying half the price [for them]. And that is going to cause problems now and in the future.”

Redesigning our approach to plastic

The multi-coloured deck of the Flipflopi dhow
The Flipflopi was cobbled together from waste plastic, including flip flops, which make up much of its deck and hull. Photo: UNEP / Stephanie Foote

In the last 50 years, plastic production has increased more than 22-fold. Humans now generate 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year and 8 million tonnes of that ends up in oceans. Read more…

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