Saving Lamu from plastic waste one piece at a time

Taka Taka and Flipflopi have joined forces to lead clean-up revolution

In Summary

• The island county once had pristine beaches but plastic waste has deterred tourists

• The Taka Taka foundation is teaching the community how to turn the trash into cash 

Plastic pollution has been a menace not only in Lamu but around the globe, with concerted efforts being put in to fight it.

In Lamu, so bad is the situation that the once pristine and beautiful beaches and clear Indian Ocean waters are now littered with all manner of plastics.

The tourism sector, a leading economic fetcher for the county, has taken a plunge after tourist numbers dipped due to the now dirty beaches. Lamu Old Town being a World Heritage Site has suffered immensely as tourists shun it.

In light of this, a few individuals calling themselves the 'Taka taka heroes' took it upon themselves to rid Lamu beaches of plastic waste one piece at a time.

Co-founder Abdul Baabad said the main objective is to educate the community about the effects of plastic pollution on the environment and the future.

“By taking part in the collection of the plastic waste, we wanted people to witness first hand just how much plastic waste we have in our environment," he said.

Due to the immense dirt they face, the heroes under the Taka Taka Foundation have organised monthly competitions called the Okota Plastiki plastic waste collection competition, where winners get to be awarded handsome cash rewards.

The foundation has partnered with Flipflopi with the aim of collecting 100 tonnes of plastic waste. This will in turn be recycled and used to make another sailing vessel, larger than the first one, that will sail to South Africa to continue to inspire the fight against plastic pollution.

“The population of plastics in the ocean, on the beaches and in this tiny island is alarming. We can only do so much, and that is why we are bringing on board as many partners as we can to create the necessary impact," Baabad said.


The first Flipflopi was made in 2017, comprising purely of 100 per cent recycled plastic and covered by 30,000 multicoloured flip flops. It was made by traditional dhow builders in Lamu island, led by renowned sailing dhow builder Ali Skanda.

In 2018, the Flipflopi completed its first ground-breaking expedition, sailing for over 500km from Lamu in Kenya to Zanzibar and Tanzania, stopping at 12 communities along the way to spread the awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution.

Ten tonnes of plastic waste, all collected from the Kenyan coast, were melted, shaped and carved by the team exactly as they would do with wood.

The dhow, aptly named 'The Flipflopi', is over nine metres long and weighs 7 tonnes. It is a world-first. 

It is currently at the Impala port in Kisumu county, where it is awaiting to commence an expedition on awareness of plastic pollution in water bodies around Lake Victoria next month.

Ali Skanda said the intention of building the first plastic vessel was to sail to South Africa.

"We believed it could capture the attention of the international community on the effects of plastic pollution to our environment," he said.

"But due to its size and first learning mistakes, we weren’t able to sail to SA. We are, however, optimistic that with the new vessel, we shall make it to SA in our mission."


The Taka Taka Foundation was founded in May 2019 by Hannah Evans together with Ali Skanda, Abdul Baabad and Swaleh Elbusaidy.

The non-profit foundation prides itself in eliminating waste from the Lamu archipelago through education, cleaning and recycling the same for beneficial use.

Despite having a population of more than 30,000 people, Lamu town does not have a waste management system as there is only one designated dumping site serving the entire place.

Therefore, dirt has easily found its way back into the streets, on the beaches and in the ocean.

Evans says the foundation has concentrated on collecting mostly five types of waste: plastic, metal, glass, paper and organic matter.

“This waste is then sorted by type and colour, cleaned and shredded to make it super fine and perfect to extrude and make key rings, meter boards, among other materials to build the next Flipflopi dhow,” she said.

If successful, the dhow should be ready to set sail in the next three years, Evans said.

The foundation also makes eco bricks, which equally help to recycle plastic bottles into something more useful and less harmful to the environment.

So far, the groups have collected 1 tonne of Eco bricks, carefully created by members of various conservation and clean-up groups established by the foundation across the archipelago.

Eco bricking simply refers to the art of filling a plastic bottle with paper, sand or concrete for use as building materials.

The collected eco bricks will be used to build a machinery shelter as well as stockpiling them to donate to school or community building projects in future.

She says the long-term plan is to melt the plastics (once they acquire the machines) and create planks like wood for fencing.

Our target is 100 tonnes [of plastic waste], and that’s not a small amount. So to help us achieve that, we are having these competitions monthly to attract more people
Abdul Baabad


Plastic pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems facing the globe today.     

The foundation’s legal adviser and strategist Swaleh Elbusaidy said the issue cannot be solved locally without also being addressed regionally and internationally.

He said plastic pollution continues to be a serious factor in climate change across the world and that, without regional cooperation, there can never be hope to effectively tackle marine and plastic pollution.

“Addressing this global problem requires awareness and engagement, just like we are doing here. It’s for this reason that the Unea5 joint event by Unep and the Kenyan government will be showcasing the Flipflopi as a beacon of community and national engagement in this war," Elbusaidy said.

The Okota Plastiki competition is an innovation by the Taka Taka Foundation. It seeks to encourage the local community to take part in the plastic waste revolution by rewarding the person or groups that collect the most plastics.

Baabad says the menace huge, so the idea of having the contest proved crucial to attract as many people as possible for a larger and more effective impact.

“Our target is 100 tonnes, and that’s not a small amount. So to help us achieve that, we are having these competitions monthly to attract more people. The higher the number of participants, the higher the number of plastic waste being removed from the beaches, ocean and around here," he said.

On February 10, the foundation witnessed the first-ever weighing and awarding of competitors, which took place at the Mkunguni square.

Over 10 tonnes of plastic waste was collected for 52 groups, translating to over 250 people who took part in the first collection competition.

The winning group took home a cash prize of Sh35,000 and a sunset dhow trip, while the second and third winners took away Sh25,000 and Sh15,000 respectively.

The second collection, which took place on February 14, saw more than 25 tonnes of plastic collected.

The foundation also bought plastics from the losing teams at Sh10 a kilo to ensure all collected plastic did not find its way back to the beach or ocean.

The next step includes sorting all the plastic by type and colour, followed by shredding at a site in Shella island.

Evans said there are more than seven types of plastics, of which only three can be easily shredded and recycled using shredder and extrusion machines at Taka Taka.

It’s these three types of plastics that are being targeted in the Okota Plastiki competition: HDPE, PP and PET. HDPE includes jerry cans, shampoo and conditioner bottles, oil bottles, bleach bottles and milk bottles. PP is hard plastics like basins, plates and cups, bottle tops, toys. And PET is water and soda bottles of all sizes.

The foundation intends to continue buying plastic every last Sunday of the month after the competition for Sh10 a kilo.

It’s such efforts that might just get to save the face of Lamu, one plastic waste piece at a time.

Edited by T Jalio

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