UniquEco: Recycling Flip Flops for a Cleaner World

| 9/16/2009 3:04:54 PM

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!

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.

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