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Humans · Nature · Economy · Technology

World’s first: The plastic-only boat to fight pollution

August 04th, 2017
in:Humans, Nature, Economy, Technology
by:Bob Koigi
located in:Kenya, South Africa
tags:Dhow, environment, flipflopi, Kenya, plastic, pollution, The Plastiki

What do over 30 tonnes of recycled plastic waste, a dhow and an African coast have in common? In Kenya, a lot. They are the raw materials making a 60-foot dhow that is set to sail from the Kenyan coast to South Africa, in an initiative meant to raise awareness on the growing menace of plastics to marine ecosystem and spur a plastic revolution.

The venture dubbed flipflopi has been inspired by the piling tonnes of plastics, flip flops, locally known as slippers, and non-biodegradable waste that has not only become an eyesore along the Kenyan coast but also blamed for chocking the ocean and taking a toll on the aquatic life.

With the plastic peril having reached epidemic proportions, a group of travel entrepreneurs and environmentalists have come up with an ingenious way of tackling the mess while raising awareness on the urgent intervention required in tackling plastic waste.

The construction of the dhow which started early this year, is taking place in Lamu, an old town in the Kenyan northern coast that is synonymous with the origin of Swahili, the official Kenyan language and home to the dhow culture that has existed for centuries. But the town that is a huge attraction to international tourists due to its rich cultural background is losing its glow as the plastic waste problem persists.

The environmentalists have mobilised locals to collect all plastic waste along the beach line which is now being used to construct the dhow. The entire boat is being built using plastics. The keel and structural elements are moulded out of recycled plastic bottles and bags, with the hull and decking surrounded by the recycled flip flops.  In total 200,000 flip flops are being used.

The dhow will make its maiden voyage to South Africa in January 2018, a journey expected to take three months with stop overs in Tanzania and Mozambique where the organizers are planning clean ups in the beaches as a way of raising awareness. "Taking this fun expedition on this dhow covered with panels of brightly coloured flip-flops is about getting the attention of the world in campaigning against single-use plastics as well as promoting successful recycling initiatives," said Ben Morison one of the project’s team leader while addressing the press.

It is a project that has caught the world attention and being hailed as transformatory in the way the world should deal with plastic pollution especially in the oceans and water bodies which ultimately affect the human life. For example, the soles of the flip flops that are made of rubber once dumped in oceans and swallowed by fish chokes them while obstructing hatching turtles from reaching the sea.

And the situation is headed to crisis levels if recent reports are anything to go by. According to a 2016 report published by the World Economic Forum, the plastic produced globally will hit over 1 billion tonnes by the year 2050 with that being discarded into oceans being more than fish. At the moment, eight million tonnes of plastic are washed to the oceans each year.

“The plastic pollution is one of the most ignored and a ticking time bomb of our time. It not only affects the marine life but also affects us because we consume most of the sea food. The biggest contributor to this mess is ignorance with people throwing all sorts of waste into the ocean thinking it will be washed away. That is why an initiative like Flipflopi deserves all the support, because it is about changing mindsets and behaviours which we badly need in the plastic revolution,” said Dr. Bramwell Ochillo an environmentalist.

The all-plastic dhow mirrors The Plastiki, a catamaran boat built with 12,500 recycled plastic waste which in 2010 set sail in San Francisco across the Pacific Ocean to Sydney, Australia.

It represents the world’s attempt at reversing what has become a global concern as studies and pundits warn that if the current trend is allowed to persist the world will collapse under a heap of plastic.

Already countries like Germany, Denmark and UK have instituted taxation on retailers and consumers who use plastic bags while New Delhi has introduced a total ban on all disposable plastic bags.

But even as some introduce such measures countries like Rwanda have gone ahead and banned plastic bags. The ban introduced in 2018 has seen the East African country litter-free and being voted among the cleanest and most environmental countries in the world.

Kenya on the other hand while reeling from the devastating impacts of the plastic menace and numerous failed attempts is on course to banning plastic paper bags with the gazette notice by the cabinet secretary of Environment and Natural Resources set to come to force at the end of August. “Studies show that the more we progress the serious the plastic problem becomes. We have been unable to manage this waste and it is a matter of time before it consumes us. We have seen clogged drainages, poor air quality and death of the aquatic life. Instituting measures that discourage use of plastics is no longer a matter of if but when,” said Prof. Hannah Ogola from the Department of Geography & Environmental Studies of the University of Nairobi.

With the all- plastic dhow set for completion in less than six months, Kenya hopes it will make a loud statement to its countrymen and citizens of the world on why it is not too late to save the planet from the menace of plastics.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Current Map: Our coverage
Embed from Getty Images
The project has been inspired by the piling tonnes of plastics, flip flops, locally known as slippers, and non-biodegradable waste that has not only become an eyesore along the Kenyan coast.
Embed from Getty Images
The construction of the dhow which started early this year, is taking place in Lamu.
Embed from Getty Images
The environmentalists have mobilised locals to collect all plastic waste along the beach line which is now being used to construct the dhow.

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