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Flipflopi, a Recycled Boat to Fight Single-Use Plastic

Lamu, Kenya —(Map)

Today the Flipflopi, a sailing boat made from plastic trash, is set to end a two-week trip along the African coast. The trip is meant to call attention to the dangers of single-use plastic.

Lamu is an island off the northern coast of Kenya. The island has many expert boat builders. Mainly, they make dhows. A dhow is a special wooden sailing boat with a sail in the shape of a triangle. Dhows have been made and sailed in Kenya for over 1,000 years.

View of the Flipflopi with triangular sail out.
The Flipflopi, a sailing boat made from plastic trash, is finishing a two-week trip along the African coast. The trip is meant to call attention to the dangers of single-use plastic.
(Source: Michael Booth (UNEP Communication), via theflipflopi.com.)

A never-ending stream of plastic washes up daily on Lamu’s beaches. In 2015, the people of Lamu held a beach cleanup to collect the plastic waste. By the end, they had collected 66,000 pounds (30,000 kilograms) of plastic waste, most of it single-use.

“Single-use” means something that is made to be used once and thrown away. Single-use plastics are a huge part of the 17 trillion pounds (7.72 trillion kilograms) of plastic that flow into the oceans every year.

A display of single-use plastic trash collected on a beach.
In 2015, Lamu held a cleanup of the island’s beaches, which were littered with single-use plastic. The plastic in this picture was collected as part of the Flipflopi’s trip.
(Source: Michael Booth (UNEP Communication), via theflipflopi.com.)

In June of 2016, Ben Morison decided to try to build a boat made just from plastic trash collected along beaches and roads in Kenya. He put together a team to help design and build the boat.

They had to collect and recycle single-use plastic into new materials for boat building. Then they got local Lamu boat builders to use the plastic to build a dhow. The finished boat used over 22,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) of plastic.

A lengthwise picture of the Flipflopi with sail furled.
It took the team three years to complete the FlipFlopi, a 30-foot (9-meter) all-plastic dhow. The only wooden part is the mast – the large pole that holds the sail up.
(Source: Michael Booth (UNEP Communication), via theflipflopi.com.)

It took the team three years to complete the FlipFlopi, a 30-foot (9-meter) all-plastic dhow. The only wooden part is the mast – the large pole that holds the sail up. Their method doesn’t require any fancy equipment. And now that they know how to do it, the method can be copied quickly and easily.

Why call it Flipflopi? The outside of the boat is covered with over 30,000 flip-flops, an item commonly found on Kenya’s beaches.

Picture of man sitting on the bow of the Flipflopi.
The boat is called Flipflopi because the outside of the boat is covered with over 30,000 flip-flops, an item commonly found on Kenya’s beaches.
(Source: Michael Booth (UNEP Communication), via theflipflopi.com.)

On January 24, the Flipflopi left Lamu on its 310-mile (500-kilometer) trip to Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania. The people on the Flipflopi’s crew were pleased with the way the boat sailed. They had strong winds and waves on the first day, but the Flipflopi had no problems.

But the goal wasn’t just to survive the trip. Along the way the Flipflopi stopped and the team met with members of government and other groups. They also took part in trash cleanups and spoke with students from many different schools.

Woman talking to a school group gathered around the plastic trash results of a beach cleanup.
Along the way the Flipflopi stopped and the team met with members of government and other groups. They also took part in trash cleanups and spoke with students from many different schools.
(Source: Michael Booth (UNEP Communication), via theflipflopi.com.)

Mr. Morison says, “The Flipflopi Project has always been 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.”

Even before the Flipflopi got close to Zanzibar, the team was thrilled with the success of the trip. They are now thinking about next steps. Dipesh Pabari, one of the project’s leaders, hopes to build another plastic boat and sail all the way to Cape Town, South Africa.

Beach drawings and the huge slogan "SAY NO TO SINGLE USE PLASTICS".
This huge picture on a beach is part of the team’s efforts to make people more aware of the dangers of single-use plastics.
(Source: Michael Booth (UNEP Communication), via theflipflopi.com.)

Lamu, Kenya


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