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Recycled plastic boat is set for its maiden voyage to SA

By Caroline Chebet | June 5th 2017
Environmentalists call for a ban on the manufacture, importation, and use of plastics. [Photo: Suleiman Mbatiah, Standard]

Environmentalists have teamed up to make a unique Swahili dhow from waste plastic.

The project aims to raise awareness on the impact of plastics on marine ecosystems.

Preparations for the Flipflopi expedition are on at a Lamu beach, where waste plastic and discarded flip-flops collected from Kenyan beaches and towns are being used to build a 60 foot boat that is destined to sail to Cape Town, South Africa.

The building of the dhow started in January and the vessel is expected to begin its expedition in January 2018.

"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, a member of the boat-building team.

More than 200,000 flip-flops will be used.

Voyage map

The FlipFlopi will sail south along the coasts of Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, and South Africa. The voyage will take between three and four months, and the vessel is expected to arrive in Cape Town in March 2018.

The boat shall be built entirely from waste plastic. Its keel and structural elements shall be moulded from recycled plastic bottles and bags, and the hull and decking will be covered by recycled flip-flops.

According to Mr Morrison, the project will also serve to champion the culturally significant but declining craft of traditional Swahili dhow building.

Included in the team is Ali Skanda, a renowned dhow builder who has had some of his work showcased in museums across the world, among them the National Museum in Washington DC.

25 tonnes of plastic will be collected. They will then be sorted and shredded for recycling.

Team members will organise beach clean-ups on all the vessel's stopovers and will visit a number of marine conservation and plastic recycling initiatives.

According to James Wakibia, a Nakuru-based environmentalist who is vocal about the ban on plastics, the building of the dhow will highlight the importance of recycling the materials.

"It is an ambitious project which will showcase better use of plastics. We should make use of the many plastics that are choking aquatic life," he said.

According to Mr Wakibia, the accumulation of plastics in Kenya's water bodies was alarming.

"Statistics currently show that we will be having more plastics in our oceans and seas by 2050 if nothing is done to salvage the situation and this is one of the initiatives seeking to raise awareness about this," he said.

He suggested that the government zero-rate the equipment used to recycle plastics to help clean up the environment.

Speaking during an awareness conference at Egerton University ahead of the World Environmental Day, Dipesh Pabari, who is part of the Flipflopi expedition, said the initiative was important in launching a plastic revolution across the world.

Raise awareness

"This is a one-of-a-kind dhow which has brought together environmentalists across the country to share ideas and come up with solutions to raise awareness on the need of recycling and the campaign for the ban of single-use plastic bags that pose a great risk to livestock and aquatic life," Mr Pabari said.

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