Lamu, an island off the coast of Kenya, has a rich heritage of boatbuilding. Their traditional dhows were built from hardwoods that are increasingly expensive, and the industry has been undermined by cheaper fibreglass boats. But a new project could revive boat-building skills and help to clean up plastic pollution at the same time.
The FlipFlopi project collects waste plastic from Lamu, and has developed techniques with local master boatbuilders to turn it into boats. The experimental FlipFlopi dhow is made from seven tonnes of waste plastic, and clad with sheets of plastic made from discarded flip-flops.
Having tested the theory with a smaller boat, the project is currently working on a larger dhow that they plan to sail around the world. When complete, it will probably be the largest recycled plastic object in the world.
As always, finding creative uses for waste plastic is no substitute for stopping pollution in the first place. But there’s going to be a role for some time for businesses that can find uses for waste plastic and incentivise cleaning it up – especially for coastal communities that receive plastic from the sea. You could have the most robust plastic laws going, and still find waste plastic washing up from elsewhere. So you might as well make something useful from it, and preserve a local skills base as well.
For any other coastal communities inspired by the idea, their techniques have also been open sourced so that others can learn from their research.