ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine on how people in Kenya are finding beautiful ways to recycle flips flops washed up on the beach
She flipped over the sack and out they flopped, dozens of discarded pieces of the world’s favourite footwear.
It’s hard to see a future for thrown away flip flops, but a Kenyan company has created one. Ocean Sole makes toys and sculptures out of them.
At the firm’s Nairobi workshop former wood carvers create beautiful pieces of artwork that are exported to zoos, aquariums, museums and shops the world over.
The idea was that of a marine biologist who noticed children playing with pieces of plastic washed up on Kenya’s coast.
Flip flops are worn by more than three billion people and discarded ones end up on the beaches here in huge numbers. Ocean currents bring them from as far away as Indonesia and India.
Another source for Ocean Sole is the Nairobi waterways clogged with plastic pollution and the city’s vast rubbish dump, Dandora.
Wander through the 40-acre fetid tip and your eye quickly becomes trained to spotting old flip flops.
At the Ocean Sole workshop they are cleaned, glued together, carved and moulded into colourful animal shapes.
They make large rhinos, elephants and giraffes. Increasingly environmentally conscious companies like having these pieces in their corporate headquarters to boost their credentials.
Every sculpture has a unique story, although where exactly on the planet the flip flops used to make them came from is of course a mystery.
Ocean Sole has even created a lifesize car, commissioned by a Honda dealership in Alabama.
The people who make the sculptures are called flip flop artists.
One of them, Francis Matua, told me he much preferred working with the rubber sandals. It was a way to protect the trees he used to use as the raw material for his carvings.
Flip flops aren’t the only items being harvested from Dandora and Nairobi’s horribly polluted streams and rivers.
Another creative Kenyan has found a use for more general waste like water bottles.
Nzambi Matee had the brilliant idea to turn them into plastic bricks.
It took her a while to get the mixture right, but eventually – working in her kitchen - she achieved the perfect blend of plastic and sand.
“I then took that one brick to nine construction companies who said no. Then one of them said yes,” she tells me.
She now has a factory in Nairobi churning out plastic bricks that are being used to make footpaths at various locations across the city.
Nzambi Matee describes how her bricks made from upcycled plastic are stronger and cheaper than ordinary bricks
One of the first places to get them was Nzambi’s old school. The plastic pavements now being trod by the pupils look really good.
Kenya’s plastic pollution problem is appalling. But some creative people have seen opportunity where most of us see only rotten hopelessness.
It’s inspiring stuff. As they say in Yorkshire, where there’s muck there’s brass.