UniquEco: Recycling Flip Flops for a Cleaner World

http://www.motherearthliving.com/Wiser-Living/uniqueco.aspx

While researching for my post on recycling shoes, I ran across this Kenya-based foundation called UniquEco. I was impressed by their story. UniquEco cleans up beaches and oceans from pollution, turns the waste into new consumer products and uses the proceeds from the sales to fund environmental and social issues. Talk about tackling a lot of problems and doing a lot of good!

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Discarded flip flops line the shores of the East African coast. Photo Courtesy Swahili Imports. 

Every year thousands of lost or discarded flip flops wash up on the shores of East Africa, blighting the ocean and beaches with rubbish and endangering marine life. Turtle hatchlings couldn’t reach the sea through all the trash, and plankton feeders such as whales would swallow and suffocate on the rubber.

The flip flops were just one more problem in communities already suffering from poverty and underdevelopment. But as they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure—and in this case, “just one more problem” turned out to be a solution to the communities’ needs.

The project that would eventually lead to the foundation of UniquEco began with a group of women from Kiwayu, a small island on the northern Kenyan coastline. They began to clean the coast by collecting the waste, which included plastic and old tires in addition to flip flops. From there, the discarded items gained new life. The waste was cleaned, beaded into raw material for production and turned into colorful and unique hand-made art pieces.

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Local women turn the waste into beautiful, handmade pieces for sale. Photo Courtesy Swahili Imports.

This process kills two birds with one stone. Not only is it environmentally helpful, but the project also employs local artisans, providing a sustainable livelihood to those in need. The environmental impact UniquEco has is two-fold as well. The money earned from the products sold goes to raise awareness of issues such as whaling and marine pollution and its effect on ecosystems.

Proceeds from the sales also benefit the locals. Funds are invested in tools, equipment and training that will allow communities to produce a product to be sold on the open market. Funding also supports education, conservation and development initiatives in the communities. The founders of UniquEco believe that setting up a business—and not just a charity—will have a longer run of success.

Saving the environment. Helping a community. That seems pretty noble to me.