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Made from 100% recycled waste, the Flipflopi dhow sets off on a highly anticipated inaugural overseas expedition, an adventurous trip from Lamu to Zanzibar with a bid to create a plastic revolution. 

The buzz felt in Lamu on the day before the launch was palpable: there were community events, football matches, speeches, beach clean ups and my favourite – a children’s sailing race with dhows made from plastic bottles – all because a team of boat builders in Lamu had been crazy enough to create a world’s first, the Flipflopi, and sail it from their home in Kenya to neighbouring Tanzania – to engage people in an African borne ‘plastic revolution’.

As the team gathered on the night before setting sail, the air was tense with anticipation, nervousness and downright excitement: we were a crew of 12 people from six nations ranging from Kenya to South Africa and beyond. Some of us had only just met and yet we were about to set off on a challenging 500km journey from Lamu to Zanzibar aboard a vessel made from takataka. All concerns however dissipated when we all heaved up the mast for the first time, those of us with ‘sedentary computer hands’ already feeling the burn; we had just hit the open seas!

We headed right for Malindi, covering 130 km over 14 hours. The constant enthusiasm from Captain Ali alleviated our fears around his recycled plastic creation. The sea carried a constant 8 foot swell and force 4-5 winds, but thankfully, Flipflopi sailed brilliantly. The first of many enthusiastic welcomes was on the beach at our first port of call, Che Shale, where we were greeted by many well-wishers and fellow plastic revolutionaries: the combination of this and the sense of achievement unified the team and set the tone for the entire expedition, one of shared values, determination and adventure.

Flipflopi, so called because of the 30,000 flip flops that festoon its hull, was created as a symbol of why single use plastic makes no sense. She was built as a vehicle to draw curiosity and smiles in order to engage people and show them that there are numerous ways to recycle plastic. To do that, we ran an ambitious schedule: hosting seven jam-packed events in partnership with 50 local conservationists and recycling partners. At each stop we conducted practical recycling workshops, gave lessons to schoolchildren, engaged businesses and policy makers in presentations and talks, and held community networking events – it was key for us to ensure we were stimulating practical solutions in the region.

We were astounded by the total of 5,000 people, from school children to business owners and local officials, that came and joined us in celebration and discussion at the events. By the time we reached our destination in Stone Town, Zanzibar, the impact of the expedition became clear: the world’s first plastic boat had captured the hearts and minds of an international audience, led to pledges by Kenyan and Zanzibari governments to help stem the tide of plastic, led to 39 businesses banning single use plastic on the Kenyan coast, and even the closing down of the largest dump site in Mombasa!

These are all incredible examples of local progress in the global fight against plastic pollution. However, the key now is to build more momentum in the region and beyond – whilst both Kenya and Zanzibar have already made progress to ban plastic bags, there is still much to do to implement these policies, and we hope that the region will take further measures to ban all single-use plastic.

As for Flipflopi, we will keep on sailing, and plans are now being made to build her ‘big sister’ so that we can sail the message around the world – hopefully inspiring more people to join the “plastic revolution”.

Jack Wood was the security advisor on board the Flipflopi as it sailed from Lamu to Zanzibar in Jan-Feb 2019. To become part of this ambitious project, visit theflipflopi.com

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