Where Do All Those Flip-Flops Go To Die? An Ultimate Recycle Story

Categories: Recycle

This concept first caught my eye inside the gift store at the Tulsa Zoo.  There, they had many different designs, and they were fantastically and meticulously made.  My children desired them, and they are soft to touch.  A bit on the pricey side, but they were quality enough to justify it, and knowing that buying one is going to the cleanup efforts of the ocean shores makes it a more than valuable purchase.  I scoured the internet to see more about where they came from, and here is what I discovered....

(CNN) If you're walking along the east African coast and chance upon a herd of brightly-striped elephants, flame-hued rhinos and a tower of crazily-colored giraffes, then don't panic, you're not hallucinating -- and neither have you stumbled on a psychedelic new species, sorry.

No, in fact this is the vibrant kingdom of skilful artisans where harmful waste is transformed into a colorful bliss -- one flip-flop at a time.

Ocean Sole is a Kenyan recycling company that's crafting whimsical pieces of art and fashion from discarded flip-flops and other plastic junk -- piles of rubbish that wash up on Kenya's sandy beaches.

Inside its Nairobi-based workshop, reclaimed old sandals and other polluting pieces of rubber are fashioned into handmade animal toys, eye-popping curtains, intricate necklaces and even life-size sculptures. The playful creations are sold locally as well as in dozens of zoos, aquariums and stores in some 20 countries across the wold.

"It's a trade-based solution to the global problem of marine pollution," says Julie Church, the co-founder of Ocean Sole. "It gets people to think about the ocean and links them to waterways -- and we're doing it through business."

Environmental threat

Like in many other developing countries, flip-flops are the footwear of choice for millions of people in Kenya. Affordable and convenient, they are worn by both children and adults alike, as well as by scores of tourists visiting the white sand beaches in east Africa.

But once the sandals' walking life comes to an end, the ubiquitous footwear often embarks on another, more harmful, journey.

Masses of broken rubber flip-flops dumped in cities and villages are carried by sewage systems, rivers and other waterways into Kenyan coastlines every year. At the same time, countless of non-degradable flip-flops and other plastic waste ends up on the same shores, brought there by powerful currents from places as far away as China and Indonesia.

The flotsam and jetsam do not only spoil the natural beauty of the environment but are also a major hazard to the wildlife living there.

"Pollution in all our waterways is a big problem," says Church, who was born and raised in Kenya. "Rivers are clogged up with plastic and rubber and everything else," she adds. "When people say that the ocean is plastic soup, it really is, because plastic doesn't go away -- it just breaks down to smaller and smaller parts. Fish, whales, sharks are digesting that plastic and sooner or later that's going to work its way into our food chain."

Trade, not aid

The inspiration for Ocean Sole came in 1997 when Church, a marine conservationist at the time, started working in a sea turtle preservation project on the remote island of Kiwayu near the Kenya-Somalia border.

Whilst there, Church was shocked to find beautiful beaches strewn with a myriad of plastic objects that damaged the environment and obstructed the turtles from reaching their nesting sites.

But, with curious fascination, Church also watched how local children used this marine ....

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