Ocean Sole removes millions of flip-flops from the beach to make sellable art

On the shores and in the sea, we find plastic pieces. Some are as large as mattresses, while other pieces are so tiny, they are hard to collect by hand. At the end of the day, the flip-flops will become the material to make works of art, but we collect much more waste from the sea.

  • 2 years ago
  • January 4, 2023
5 min read
The large sculptures made from flip-flops at Ocean Sole travel the globe, raising awareness about Ocean pollution | Photo courtesy of Ocean Sole
Interview Subject
Maureen Simba serves as the Marketing and Impact Assistant at Ocean Sole, a registered non-profit organization in Kenya whose mission is to clean polluted beaches and provide careers to Artisans in high-impact communities. She is part of team which cleans up the beaches on Kenya’s coastline and collects waste, including discarded flip-flops polluting the ocean. They then turn the flip-flops into sellable works of art and large artisan displays that generate awareness about ocean pollution and provide sustainable income for Kenyan families.
Background Information
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, billions of pounds of trash and other pollutants enter the ocean every year. This pollution, mostly generated by humans, impacts every aspect of the ocean and oceanic life. The ocean covers more than 70 percent of the planet and is humans’ most valuable resource. The majority of the garbage comes from plastics to the tune of eight million tons a year. CNN featured Ocean Sole in a 2017 article for their work in remedying the problem.

NAIROBI, Kenya – Along a section of Kenya’s coastline where I spend the day doing cleanup, piles of colorful flip-flops line the sand. I see blue, red, green, and all sorts of other colors. The pollution washes down streams and rivers, collecting at the sea.

We gather a half ton of waste on that part of the beach to take back to our processing facility at Ocean Sole. The flip-flops will become colorful works of art. My teammates and I share a desire to save marine life and restore Kenya’s coastline.

Giant piles of waste litter Kenya’s coastline

The staff and volunteers of Ocean Sole hold rakes and bags in their hands to pack up the collection. The process repeats every Saturday, as we host beach cleanups that recycle tons of flip-flops and ocean trash. Wearing protective gloves, I comb through a selected part of the beach and go about untangling trash found along the coastline.

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On the shores and in the sea, we find plastic pieces. Some are as large as mattresses, while other pieces are so tiny, they are hard to collect by hand. To be more efficient, we look for innovative solutions. In the last few months, the team introduced a micro-sifter to remove small plastics from that sand that often go unnoticed by the human eye. We hope to clear the rubbish before animals confuse it for food.

At the end of the day, the flip-flops will become the material to make works of art, but we collect much more waste from the sea. At the end of the day, heaps of flip-flops lay piled up, awaiting transportation in trucks to the workshop. Others gather flip-flops from landfills.

Back at headquarters, we begin turning the trash into sellable works of art.

Turning flip-flops into sellable art sustains Kenyan families

At Ocean Sole’s workshop, Kenyans sort, wash, and dry the materials we collected that day. Once dry, they cut the flip-flops into designated shapes before sanding them. Next, the flip-flops are combined into blocks and sanded again.

A shape emerges – an elephant, a starfish, a turtle, a giraffe. The team diligently puts on the finishing touches like an ear or a nose, a fin for a fish, or a headlight for a car. After undergoing a quality control evaluation, the piece of art gets washed and dried and becomes ready for sale.

An artisan at Ocean Sole works on a sellable piece of art from ocean waste | Photo courtesy of Ocean Sole

It feels great to connect people with our artwork, but we achieve even more. We educate society on ocean health and supporting low-income communities in Kenya. At Ocean Sole, the Kenyans who spend hours turning disposed ocean waste into art receive meals, healthcare, fair wages, career advancement, and educational opportunities.

I get to work somewhere fun and creative while being a passionate eco-advocate, spreading conservation awareness in Kenya and around the world.

Large sculptures circulate the globe, raise awareness about ocean pollution

At Ocean Sole, we aim to upcycle at least one million flip-flops washed up on Kenya’s beaches every year, and work together with local artisans to create income-generating projects. The work remains critical. It saddens me to know approximately 51 trillion microscopic pieces of waste litter the ocean – equivalent to 269,000 tons. That equates to the weight of 1,245 blue whales.

Even though the world’s oceans represent a massive expanse, it still adds up to a shocking density of plastic. Statistics say more than 46,000 pieces of plastic litter the ocean per square mile. As awareness of the problem grows, I see more and more individuals and groups volunteering for our beach cleanup campaigns. 

This noble idea has become a big venture because people want to help clean our water bodies. Through awareness efforts and educational programs, Ocean Sole motivates people to get involved. In the process, I have lived through incredible, memorable moments, like creating giant works of art from flip-flops that display around the world.

These masterpieces offer a visual awareness of ocean pollution that impacts everyone who sees them. Even though I work with an organization like Ocean Sole, I feel alarmed by the level of pollution in our oceans. Globally, 11 million metric tons of trash ends up in those waters every year. Knowing that, I must act; we all must.

All photos courtesy of Ocean Sole.

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