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.
~ Ben Morison, Project Founder
You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you.
What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.
~ Jane Goodall

I first published this article almost a year ago. I’m adapting it a bit and presenting it again because I think it is such a good example of local action that brings great benefit to a community and, thus, to the world. It’s a win-win-win-win in that:

  1. It saves the community’s coveted UN World Heritage Cultural Site status by cleaning up the shoreline.
  2. What’s cleaned up from the shoreline is recycled and made into traditional dhows (boats).
  3. Dhows are traditionally built using wood. Using recycled plastic and other trash instead means trees remain. Saved!
  4. This initiative provides new employment for people in the community.

I wonder…how might we do something similar in my town? And I wonder…what are the unaddressed opportunities that could change everything and add up to such an enormous win-win for us right here and right now?

The more extensive original article is Plastic Revolution.


When I lived in Somalia, I would go on R&R to Kenya now and then. And I would usually go on safari. On one trip, however, I decided to do something different. I had heard about a mostly unknown town on an island on the Kenyan coast. The Lamu area was idyllic. At that time, it was pristine and quiet. Later, in 2001, Lamu became a UN World Heritage Cultural Site. Bravo! And it had become a well-known tourist destination with many new hotels.


But now enters a rub. At some point, plastics began to intrude. Plastic debris was being pushed onto the formerly untouched Indian Ocean beaches. The bulk of it was one-time use plastic bottles followed closely by other plastics – like flip-flops! Hundreds of thousands of them.

As a result, the town’s World Heritage status was threatened. As was their primary industry: tourists. The local people tried to keep the beaches clean but the amount of trash was greater than their capacity to get rid of it. I watched a video where the narrator said that on one organized clean-up the local people gathered 33 tons of litter. 33 tons! In another video I watched, the narrator said projections are that if we don’t change our ways, in 50 years there will be more plastic in the oceans than there are fish.


Then enters an oil-backed trade group that is lobbying to push plastics across Africa with Kenya being the manufacturing hub. Some of the companies included are Shell, Exxon, Total, DuPont, and Dow.

Many forms of single use plastics – like plastic bags – have been banned in Kenya and can result in prison time of up to four years and/or a rather hefty fine – especially by Kenyan standards – of $40,000. So to make Kenya a hub for plastics manufacturing in Africa would undo everything they have done to manage single-use plastic to this point.

Photo by Barbara: A Shell Oil gas station in Beirut, Lebanon, 1971.


Just one example is a local master boat-builder whose family of boat-builders goes back to the origin of the town. He decided to try building a boat using recycled plastics. And not just any boat, but a traditional dhow using innovative methods to prepare the materials and traditional methods to build it. Then, to test whether the new dhow was sea-worthy, they sailed 300 miles from Lamu to the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania. It worked! And recycled plastic struts saved 50 trees from being cut down. That’s the number of trees it takes to build one dhow. The first boat, multicolored, included 200,000 flip-flops. 30,000 of them were used for the colorful tiles on the outside of the boat.

Local materials, innovation, collaboration, cooperation, perfection, and hope!!

Recycled plastic struts are strong and save 50 trees from being cut down per boat!

Building an innovative boat using traditional building methods hundreds of years old.

The sea-worthy result includes  colorful hull made from 30,000 flip flops.

The inaugural voyage

We have demonstrated that if you can build a boat capable
of sailing thousands of kilometers essentially made of old
toothbrushes and Jerry cans, then everything is possible.
As we say in Swahili “Kila Kitu Inawezekana”.