FLIPFLOPI EXPEDITION

Why we urgently need to end culture of single-use plastic

They pollute Lake Victoria and choke its fish, threatening livelihoods

In Summary

• Lake Victoria supports 40 million people in East Africa but pollution is killing its fish

• Dhow made from recycled plastic is promoting circular solutions to single-use plastic

Journalists sail on Lake Victoria during the Flipflopi dhow expedition in Kisumu. The boat is made of 100 per cent plastic.
Journalists sail on Lake Victoria during the Flipflopi dhow expedition in Kisumu. The boat is made of 100 per cent plastic.
Image: FAITH MATETE

For three weeks in March, a dhow made entirely of recycled plastic sailed from Kisumu, Kenya to several locations in Uganda and Tanzania.

The Flipflopi, as it is called, was on a mission to raise awareness and inspire communities to adopt circular-waste solutions to beat plastic pollution. A circular economy is one that aims to eliminate waste and ensure the continual use of resources.

Project cofounder Ali Skanda said the voyage sought to send an urgent message to the East Africa community on the need to end the single-use plastic scourge that is threatening the region.

“Together with communities across the Lake Victoria region, we hope to bring awareness and innovative solutions to beat pollution and support a green recovery in East Africa,” he says.

Rampant plastic pollution has been the bane of Lake Victoria. Human activities, particularly discharge of single-use plastic waste, have been blamed for the degradation.

It is against this backdrop that campaigns to conserve the freshwater body from excessive degradation have been rolled out.

Under the patronage of Flipflopi Initiative, various players have teamed up to try and restore the lake. These include the Lake Region Economic Bloc, county governments and environmental bodies. 

A recent study estimated that one in five of the fish in Lake Victoria had ingested plastic.

Another recent study ubiquitously recorded microplastics in surface waters in several sites of Lake Victoria.

We hope to bring awareness and innovative solutions to beat pollution and support a green recovery in East Africa
Ali Skanda

INFLUENCING POLICY

Skanda says Flipflopi was built to show the world it is possible to make valuable materials out of plastic waste, and that single-use plastic really does not make sense.

The cofounder says by sailing around the lake, they aim to inspire people to create their own plastic waste innovations and adopt circular solutions that will build greener businesses, while also taking plastic out of the environment.

Fellow cofounder Dipesh Pabari said when they set to start sailing in the first expedition, they needed approvals from the Kenyan Marine Authority that the Flipflopi boat was a safe and sound vessel. However, their certification was rejected and questioned.

Pabari said nobody knew how to create a law or policy or a certificate to say the vessel was safe because nobody had ever built a boat out of recycled plastic.

“This conversation dragged on for 24 hours before we were setting sail, and thanks to partners and our friends who have been with us from the beginning and later, the certificate was approved and we sailed.”

He added, “When we met the director general of KMA in Mombasa, in her public speech, she said she did not want to find herself on the wrong side of history. And she was right.

“For us to take the next step, we need to support innovations and have policies and financial support. Not necessarily donations but the government needs to enable the next step to be made.”

Flipflopi is a great African example of the circular economy in action
Unep deputy executive director Joyce Msuya

WATER POLLUTED

The Flipflopi dhow is the world’s first nine-metre sailing dhow, made from 10 tonnes of discarded plastic. It went on an expedition by sailing around Africa’s largest freshwater ecosystem, Lake Victoria.

It was built to start a positive African-led #PlasticRevolution and show the world that it’s possible to make a seaworthy vessel capable of sailing thousands of kilometres out of plastic waste.

Flipflopi is an initiative showcasing alternative uses of plastic waste and the possibilities of circular economy approaches.

Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong'o said the renewed campaign against plastic pollution being launched could not have come at a better time.

"I am convinced that by the time the Flipflopi vessel would have voyaged across East Africa, the rate of plastic pollution would have reduced by more than half," he said.

The plastic waste used to build the dhow would have been choking and polluting rivers and the lake, Nyong'o added.

He thanked the brains behind the project and praised efforts to work with the UN Environment Programme’s Clean Seas Campaign.

Lake Victoria, supporting 40 million East Africans, symbolises the catastrophic effects of human activities and climate change, among other issues, resulting in significant water pollution, which threatens the health and livelihoods of communities.

TAKE-MAKE-DISPOSE

At the heart of the plastic waste problem is the linear ‘take-make-dispose’ model of consumption, as products get manufactured, bought, used briefly and then thrown away.

“This Lake, Nam Lolwe, matters to me. It must matter to us all. Investing in research and development on blue economy investments, improving the health of the lake and riparian environment while ensuring that investments are ‘lake friendly’ from inception are amongst my priorities,” the governor said.

His Homa Bay counterpart Cyprian Awiti said environmental officials from counties surrounding Lake Victoria should come together, sit and have serious conversations with various stakeholders on how best they can address the issues of pollution in Lake Victoria, more so on the single use of plastics.

“This will then bring the issues of policies that should be put in place to address some of this challenges,” Awiti said.

Joyce Msuya, deputy executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the need to address the myriad environmental crises. This can only be done through regional and global consensus on key issues like single-use plastic and climate change, she said.

“Flipflopi is a great African example of the circular economy in action. We are proud to see it start this new journey around Lake Victoria, a shared resource that we must do all we can to protect,” Msuya said.

Flipflopi’s Lake Victoria expedition included several stops along the lake engaging community leaders, conservationists, business leaders and policymakers, demonstrating alternate uses of waste plastic and other circular waste models, calling for an end to single-use plastics.

In Kisumu, various exhibitions were carried out, including boat races within the lake.