Trailblazing plastic dhow set for Zanzibar trip

Wednesday January 23 2019

People take part in the first voyage sail of Flipflopi, the first dhow boat made entirely of recycled plastic, after the launch ceremony on the island of Lamu, Kenya, on September 15, 2018. PHOTO | REUTERS


A group of Kenyans have brought honour and praise to the country for being trailblazers in low-tech ideas to address the plastic waste menace in the world.

The group made up of volunteers from Lamu, conceived the idea and made a 9-metre plastic dhow, one of its kind in the world.

The boat, made of 10 tonnes of discarded waste, is expected to sail from Lamu to Zanzibar on February 7.

During an interview, Mr Dipesh Pabari, a co-founder of the FlipFlopi Project, said that the idea came from a tour operator, Mr Ben Morrison who had observed the dilapidation of the Kenyan coast by plastics.

“The idea was by an old school friend by the name Ben Morrison who approached me and said he wanted to do something big and significant to showcase the spirit of innovation in Kenya.

“He was inspired to do this because he is a tour operator but selling beautiful white beaches became hard because of the level of plastics on the beaches,” he said during Tuesday’s launch of the Clean Seas — Flipflopi Expedition in Nairobi.



Since Mr Pabari had a hobby involving playing with plastic and recycling the same, he bought the idea and together with Mr Ali Skanda and volunteers, started building the boat three years ago.

“Many people have come, volunteered and have moved on to different projects. But there is a core team of volunteers including Engineer Ali Skanda the boat builder and Benson Gitari who created the flipflop plates on the boat,” he said.

Among the builders was a group of community members who collected the plastic waste that was used to construct the boat and stitched the flip-flops.

“This is a movement, it is a plastic revolution. We have a plastic pollution problem which we are trying to solve by this innovation. Single use of plastic does not make any sense,” said Mr Pabari during the presentation.


The UN recognised the innovation saying it was a demonstration of how ideas can be translated into action.

This comes only two years after Kenya banned the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging.

According to the UN, though not quantifiable, plastics have found themselves in the food chain.

This is after a study showed that fish, which is a staple food for many people across the world, could be consuming pieces of plastic which end up being eaten by humans.

The organisation said at least eight million tonnes of plastic flow into the seas every year while the amount that is recycled is barely nine per cent.

Sub-Saharan Africa generates 170 million tonnes of garbage annually of which 12 per cent is plastic, Ms Joyce Msuya, the acting executive director of Unep said.

Ms Msuya noted that there is a strong link between plastics, economic development and poverty reduction.

She said there was need for sustainable production and consumption of plastics and innovation, like the FlipFlopi project, would play a key role in solving the plastic pollution menace.

Kenya was lauded for showing the way in tackling marine pollution. “This is in response to the challenges affecting most African countries. Environmental issues are very complex and within no time, we may have more plastics than fish in the oceans,” said Koleka Anita Mqulwana, the South Africa High Commissioner to Kenya and the Acting Dean for African Diplomatic Corps.

She said there was need to deal with the problem from the source, insisting that educating masses will be key.

She asked the youth to get involved in the movement through innovation.


Hemingways Watamu, one of the partners of the initiative, will host the FlipFlopi Expedition crew during their stopover at Watamu Marine Park on January 26 during which presentations on clean beaches and recycling will be made.

“We are among the champions of clean oceans with our continuous support of beach cleanup exercises along the Watamu coastline. Over the years, we have worked with our fellow community members to clear plastics from our beach and convert them to better use and are actively reducing single use plastics used in our properties throughout Kenya,” Hemingways Collection Operations Director, Ross Evans said.