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A boat made from old flip flops raises red flag on plastic waste

A Northumbria University researcher is working with a group of environmentalists in Kenya to rid the world of single use-plastic in a world-first project. Simon Scott-Harden, from Northumbria’s School of Design, helped the team create a traditional sailing boat made from plastic waste to inspire others to reduce and repurpose plastic waste. The FlipFlopi 500-kilometre expedition captured global media attention and inspired government, NGOs, organisations and businesses to act against single-use plastic

Plastic is a valuable resource but our over consumption of it is wreaking havoc on the natural environment. Each year more than 8 million tonnes of plastic waste makes its way into our seas, threatening marine life and ecosystems. Plastic waste disposed of in landfill fares no better – as chemicals released from degrading plastic can pollute air, soil and groundwater, posing a risk to wildlife and the food chain.

Of the 300 million tonnes of plastic we produce every year, 50 per cent of it will be used once and then discarded. Pressure to reduce or ban single-use plastic has mounted in recent years, but much more work is needed to raise awareness and change behaviours.

Simon Scott-Harden, a researcher and lecturer at Northumbria’s School of Design, joined environmentalists mainly based in Kenya to mobilise local, regional and global communities to take measures against plastic waste and encourage single-use plastic to be re-used, re-purposed and recycled. Together they created the FlipFlopi, a traditional dhow sailing boat made from 10-tonnes of plastic waste and over 30,000 discarded flip flops, collected from the Kenya coast.

Mr Scott-Harden, an expert in product and material design, was brought into this unique project by FlipFlopi co-founder and former Northumbria University student, Ben Morison. In collaboration with the traditional boatbuilders and design engineers, the Northumbria researcher helped the Flipflopi team test and evaluate new methods and techniques for the plastic waste to be melted, shaped and carved into a traditional boat.

In early 2019, the 9-metre boat sailed 500 kilometres, from Lamu in Kenya to Zanzibar in Tanzania, stopping at various points to speak to local people, schools and officials to highlight the detrimental effect that plastic is having on our environment. Then in March, the FlipFlopi was showcased at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, as part of a partnership with the UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign.

The FlipFlopi expedition has been a great success, with its message on plastic waste reaching more than 850 million people globally. At the local and regional levels, 40 businesses committed to ban single-use plastic and partnerships were established with 100 grassroot organisations and NGOs across Kenya and Zanzibar. Additional commitments came from Kenyan and Tanzanian government officials, who pledged their support to end single-use plastic. Mombasa County Government also promised to close a large dumpsite and install an environmentally friendly waste management system in its place.

Mr Scott-Harden and the team are now planning to create a 20-metre sailing boat, made from discarded plastic, that will enable them to travel further with their global message. The 2021 expedition will see them sail more than 5,000 kilometres from Lamu to Cape Town, South Africa, with visits to beach clean-ups, in addition to marine conservation and plastic recycling initiatives.    

For more information about the project or to join the #Plasticrevolution visit:

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