#MakeChange: Flipping trash into treasure

They might be light and summery but flip-flops pose a deadly threat to Kenya’s coast.

As garbage washed into the ocean devastates marine ecosystem, one footwear item in particular is proving to be particulary harmful to marine life on Kenya’s coasts: flip-flops.

The Ocean Sole Foundation (formerly the Flip-Flop Recycling Company), founded in 2007, employs coastal communities to walk the shoreline collecting flip-flops that have washed up. The shoes are washed, treated, layered and glued together into large colourful blocks – forming a material that is then carved into sculptural artworks.

The foundation employs Kenyans from the Kamba tribe to collect and upcycle the shoes. Traditionally an exceptionally talented wood carving community, they use their skills and artistic flair to carve animals and masks out of the large recycled flip-flop blocks.

Data collected by teams during the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanups show that flip-flops are the biggest pollutant along the Kenyan coast. Rachel Drew of the Ocean Sole Foundation estimates that they’ve recycled about a million flip-flops since the project’s inception eight years ago.

Today, the foundation is still recycling flip-flops along the Kenyan coast and its handcrafted items are stocked in 100 outlets across the globe.

Sales proceeds are channelled back into the project to keep it self-sustaining with any other profits donated to other marine conservation efforts.

“The Ocean Sole Foundation has provided a sustainable income to hundreds of people over the years, helping them improve their standard of living. We have also educated communities to take responsibility for their environments, seeing the worth in recycling plastics,” says Drew.