When innovative Africans create a project that turns abandoned flip-flops and other plastics into a boat that can sail the seven seas, then you know that the circular economy is coming into its own.

The excesses of the 80s and 90s have evolved our global village into something of a throwaway society but, fortunately, we have learned to see value in our waste. Waste and litter is not just ugly to look at, it is also the gateway for certain diseases, it kills wildlife and fills the atmosphere with toxins. That said, where there’s muck there’s brass… or, in other words, waste and recycling can also be lucrative.Across the world—and in Africa in particular—the scourge that is waste and litter (in the sense of scrap metal, plastics, polythene, rubber, glass bottles and tin cans) has become a valuable source of income for many, as all these things are worth money in the scrap and recycling industry.

In South Africa alone, research by the Institute of Waste Management of South Africa (IWMSA) reveals that about 85 000 people make a living as waste pickers.Across Africa, there is a growing recognition that waste pickers contribute to the local economy, to public health and safety, and to environmental sustainability and, one initiative that hopes to showcase the value of recycling waste is the Flipflopi Expedition.The expedition will feature a 60ft dhow or traditional sailing boat that is being built in Lamu, Kenya from recycled plastic waste and discarded flip-flops, and it will set sail in November this year for Cape Town in South Africa in a bid to raise awareness about marine plastic pollution.

According to Sakhile Mthembu, a South African member of the Flipiflopi project, “the rapid development of Africa, coupled with poverty, has seen waste accumulation outpace the waste management systems in place for Africa. What makes the Flipflopi Expedition relevant to the world and not just Kenya or South Africa is the fact that plastic pollution is an international issue that needs to be acknowledged by all who live on our planet. International organisations now fear that Africa may soon become as badly polluted as South East Asia, which has the foulest record on the planet.” Mthembu says that when South Africa introduced a levy for all plastic shopping bags, the public seemed to reduce their consumption of how many plastic bags they brought home when they went shopping. “This wasn’t enough, however, because the public needs to be educated about what plastic is and the effects it has on the environment if it is just thrown away in the streets or on the beach,” he adds. “Plastic pollution is a serious problem in South Africa. Just recently in Durban, they were forced to temporarily close its beaches as piles of pollution and debris washed up on shore, some which included medical waste that had somehow ended up in the ocean, while in the Western Cape, seals have also been spotted caught up in plastic,” said Mthembu. “Just late last year in Cape Town, a whale washed up ashore and died after eating too much plastic.

These beaches and coastlines are what attract tourists to our shores, for surfing competitions, whale watching and vacations to the coast in the summer. If we don’t take care of the coastline, it will become irreparably damaged by plastic pollution.” One of the key pillars of the expedition is encouraging people to always recycle what they can, wherever they can. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be plastic, but all other recyclable materials should be recycled so that they do not end up in streams, rivers and in the ocean. Through recycling, we would be slowing down the production rate of new plastic products while reducing what we already have in the environment,” said Mthembu. Projects such as this expedition rely on waste pickers to some extent, and it goes to show that waste pickers are capable of contributing to cities and to the urban economy. Waste pickers help manage the waste problem and reduce its effects on the environment. However, Mthembu points out that, currently, they “don't interact with them directly, because all our plastic waste is acquired through the Regeneration Africa recycling plant in Malindi, Kenya. They have agreements with the waste pickers who supply them with plastic waste.”


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Issue 93


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