Keeping plastic pollution at bay in Kwale

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021 00:00 | By
Some workers at the Waste Recycle Depot in Mwabungu area in Kwale county PD/NDEGWA GATHUNGU

Jasmine Atieno @sparkleMine

When Ben Morison came to Kenya in 2015, he was struck by the amount of plastics, especially flipflops littering the country and the beautiful beaches, which he loved deeply. He felt the urge to do something about it. 

This set him on a journey that started with the construction of the Flipflopi dhow.

The research he undertook on alternative uses for plastic, indicated that building a boat from the plastic waste would be an effective way to celebrate the centuries old traditional craft of dhow-building that is a cornerstone of the Swahili culture. 

Together with Ali Skanda, a dhow builder in Lamu, they used 10 tonnes of plastic waste, all collected from the Kenyan coast, to build the dhow.

The plastic was melted, shaped and carved by the team exactly as they would do with wood.

Clad in 30,000 flip flops, the world’s first plastic dhow has now turned into a movement on plastic recycling.

Single use plastice

“My aim was to share why the single use of plastic was bad. And to show people we can reuse it to make something incredible.

I chose to build a boat that is local, a traditional dhow because this is a Kenyan movement.

When we sailed in 2019, we had over 44 million views for the two weeks’ expedition, showing people how plastic can be recycled to create something good.

And we were lucky enough to have more support to tackle this waste, especially through the county government support,” says the Co-Founder of Flipflopi Project. 

The project was just the beginning. In 2020, Morison joined Susan Scull-Carvalho, who was spearheading the Kwale Plastic Plus Project.

And together they opened the Kwale Deport, a material recovery facility.

“When people use our bins to segregate their waste, we bring all the waste at the deport. We further separate it for onward recycling. When it’s further sorted, the value of the waste increases.

When this waste is carelessly dumped in the fields, it harms the environment and animals especially.

We are of the belief that all waste comes from nature and can go back if the cycle is well managed,” says Susan.

With aim, the team has set up a deport at Muhaka, Kwale in preparation for a recycling factory set to be opened in May.

But first and for the factory to be productive, the deport will need tens of thousands of waste.

“We are starting with a small factory, which will produce about 20 tonnes monthly; the goal is to increase our collection.

Right now, we are only doing it in Kwale to test the system. If it works, then we have a good story to share with others, and to extend the project to the other counties.

The factory equipment should be here between late March and early April and by May, the factory will be ready, and in August 2021, it should be fully operating,” adds Susan. 

The two machines worth Sh4 Million, includes the extruder, which functions to crush big plastic into smaller pieces, and the gradulator, which melts the plastic into a form that can be used to make different forms of artistic materials and building materials. The factory will be set right next to the deport on a 12m by 24m land.

FlipFlopi is also working with other plastic producing companies under the Extended Produce Responsibility  Policy, which binds producers to be responsible for their waste, for recycling.

Easy collection

“We are working with many companies, but at the moment Bio Food is leading the way by setting up bins branded with the company’s name.

We collect and return plastic to them, which they recycle. This works in reducing plastic in the environment.

We are hoping other companies can join in. We are lucky the county government and local leaders have given us so much support.

Our biggest support so far has been EKWAL volunteers from Switzerland, Base Titanium, because we need the relevant engineering skills, also we have been given so much support by the UK government in acquiring the machine.

It’s not the biggest, but it’s going to be good; it will work and most importantly we want proof of the productivity of this concept,” says Ben.

Aside from proving the concept’s productivity, the founders also hope to use it to promote commercial interest to make the project self-sustainable.

The deport has so far employed about 20 people from Kwale county who collect the waste and sort it out, depending on material and colour. 

Dexter Agesa, project leader, Wazili Conservation leadership programme are the guardians of nature in Kwale and the most important part of the deport as his team oversees the collection of waste brought in.

“We work with different teams to collect and moderate the segregation of waste to give the deport an easy time.

We further oversee the weighing of the waste to know its value. We also have a team that goes to schools and other educative forums to educate on the importance recycling plastic and reach out to them to help us keep the environment green,” he says.

CEC Minister for Tourism, Trade and Enterprise Development in Kwale County, Nassib Omar, shares that the county government has partnered with FlipFlopi since 2018 to make sure Kwale remains the cleanest tourism destination at the coast.

“Kwale is a business hub, filled with tourists, investments and many businesses. As the county government, it is easy to create a conducive environment for all of these sectors.

This is why as a government; we have furnished collection bins that enable the easy collection of the waste, which would otherwise be littered everywhere.

We also continue to organise forums to teach on the importance of keeping the environment clean and ways of doing it, we also organize beach cleaning programmes and this is why Diani still remains the cleanest Beach in Africa,” says the county leader. 

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