The Flipflopi plastic sailing boat; photo by Abdalla Barghash
A design expert from Northumbria University is helping to raise awareness of the impact single use plastic is having on the world’s oceans by helping to create a boat made entirely from rubbish collected from African beaches – including 30,000 flipflops.
Simon Scott-Harden, from Northumbria’s School of Design, is part of the team behind the Flipflopi – a traditional ‘dhow’ sailing boat made from plastic waste collected from Kenya’s beaches and towns.
Next week the boat will embark on its maiden voyage, sailing from Lamu in Kenya to Zanzibar in Tanzania – a 500-kilometre expedition, stopping at communities along the way to change mindsets about plastic waste.
Simon, a senior lecturer in Design for Industry, used his product and material design skills to help bring the nine-metre long sailing boat to life. He worked alongside a design engineer to find the best way of processing and shaping the plastic to create the ‘dhow’ – a traditional sailing vessel which would normally be made from wood.
He will travel from Newcastle to Kenya next week to take part in the two-week expedition, which will see the boat and its crew depart from Lamu on January 24, stopping at six destinations along the way before arriving in Zanzibar on February 7.
“Every year 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans – that’s a rubbish truck full every minute,” said Simon. “By 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than there are fish (by weight), so it’s vital we raise awareness of this issue now and this project is a really unique way to do that.”
In addition to Simon’s involvement, the Flipflopi project has another link with Northumbria, with co-founder Ben Morison a former student – graduating from the University’s BA (Hons) Travel & Tourism (Management) course in 1997.
After witnessing the shocking quantities of plastic on Kenya’s beaches, an area where Ben spent much of his childhood, he was inspired to create a visually engaging project which would make people think about plastic differently.
Ben said: “The Flipflopi Project has always been about encouraging change in a positive way, making people smile first and then sharing the very simple message that single-use plastics really don’t make sense.
“To create the Flipflopi boat we used only locally available resources and low-tech solutions, enabling our techniques and ideas to be copied without any barriers. We hope people around the globe are inspired by our beautiful multicoloured boat and find their own ways to repurpose ‘already-used’ plastics.”
Established in 2016, the Flipflopi project team has had to pioneer new techniques to craft the various components of the boat. The plastic waste was melted, shaped and carved by the team of traditional dhow boat builders, exactly as they would do with wood.
Every single element of the boat has been constructed by hand and the whole boat has been clad in colourful sheets of recycled flipflops, collected from Lamu’s beaches, where they are among the most prolific items found during beach clean-ups.
Speaking before heading off for the expedition, Simon Scott-Harden said: “This is a totally unique project and one which we hope will inspire change in the way people view and use single use plastic.
“From a design point of view, this has been a really interesting challenge. I always try to impress on my students the importance of innovation in design and the need to not only have the understanding and practical skills of industrial design but also an understanding of how design fits into the different societies that we live and interact with.
“It is clear that there is a need to pay attention and design the experience people have when they interact with their surroundings, either the environment where they are or the product they are using.
“This project is using the materials found on the beaches of Kenya in a really unique way to raise awareness of a very serious issue, while at the same time utilising and recognising the traditional skills and craftsmanship of the region.”
Only nine per cent of the nine billion tonnes of plastic the world has ever produced has been recycled. The overwhelming majority of plastics – including plastic drinking bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, plastic lids, straws and stirrers, and foam takeaway containers – are designed to be thrown away after a single use, ultimately ending up in landfills and the environment.
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