A traditional dhow made entirely from plastic trash collected from Kenya’s beaches and coastal towns will make its maiden voyage later this month from Lamu to Zanzibar.
The 500-kilometre inaugural expedition is supported by the UN Environment’s Clean Seas global campaign on plastic pollution.
It seeks to engage communities living along the East African coast on marine plastic pollution and what can be done about it.
The dhow – the first of its kind in the world – is a nine-metre sailing boat made from 10 tonnes of discarded plastic and highlights the potential for plastic waste to be recycled into meaningful use.
The voyage organised by a lobby group seeking to stem the flow of up to 12 million tonnes of plastic waste dumped into oceans every year comes nearly two years after Kenya enacted one of the world’s toughest laws on single-use plastic bags.
According to Ben Morison, the co-founder of the project dubbed Plastic Revolution, the voyage was inspired by the need to create a visually engaging tool for communities living along the coast of Kenya and Tanzania.
After witnessing the shocking quantities of plastic on Kenya’s beaches, Mr Morison started the Flipflopi project to change public perception of plastic.
“The Flipflopi project is 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,” he explained.
Mr Morison says the dhow carrying environmental activists and journalists will start its voyage in Lamu town on January 24 and will be making stops along the way in order to appeal to communities along the way to change the mind-set about plastic waste.
“The boat is expected to arrive in Stone Town in Zanzibar on February 7 where the Flipflopi and Clean Seas teams will meet with Conservation Music at the Busara Music Festival, engaging festival goers in the fight against marine plastic pollution through music and culture,” Mr Morison said.
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 fishing, their livelihoods are directly affected by marine pollution, yet the proportion of protein intake from fish is high across Africa.
During the Blue Economy Conference held in Kenya last year, governments across the world committed to protect oceans, seas, lakes and rivers.
“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,” explained Mr Morison.
He says they hope that people around the world will be inspired by the beautiful multi-coloured boat and find their own ways to repurpose “already-used” plastics.
The Flipflopi project team has had to pioneer new techniques to craft the various components of the boat where the plastic waste was melted, shaped and carved by the team of traditional 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 flip-flops. These flip-flops have been collected [during] beach clean-ups on Lamu’s beaches, where they are among the most prolific items found,” he said.
“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, Mr Skanda said, is to sail and inspire people across Africa’s coastline and beyond to look at plastic waste not as trash but as a resource that can be collected and re-used.
Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko, the acting executive director of UN Environment Dr Joyce Msuya and Tanzanian High Commissioner to Kenya Pindi Hazara Channa will flag off the expedition.
The dhow, which was launched in Lamu on September 15, 2018 to mark the World Clean-up Day, 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 including Kenya, South Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia and Tanzania have already signed into 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 rethink the way we manufacture, use and manage single-use plastic,” said Dr Msuya in a statement.
Prof Judi Wakhungu, a Flipflopi board member and Kenya’s former Environment Cabinet secretary, said the country has demonstrated tremendous leadership in addressing the epidemic of single-use plastics by banning polythene bags.