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Let's Talk Flip Flop Pollution

We have been posting a lot of news on the hazards of plastic waste in our oceans, but I bet you have not considered this everyday item that is posing a huge plastic pollution problem. Flip flops, like yours are ubiquitous around the world and millions are discarded every day.

“Over three billion people can only afford that type of shoe,” says Erin Smith of Ocean Sole. “They hang on to them, they fix them, they duct tape them, mend them and then usually discard them.” Smith adds that the average lifespan of a flip flop is two years. This very inexpensive footwear is popular throughout Asia and the developing world, especially in tropical zones.

Plastic Not Pristine

Most of us think of beaches along the east African coast as little visited and pristine, however Smith points out that is not so. “We are actually receivers of pretty much the rest of the emerging world’s marine pollution.” And a lot of the pollution that is carried to the beaches of East Africa are discarded flip flops — approximately 90 tons a year, states Ocean Sole, a conservation group and recycling collective.


Kenya is part of the problem also, one Kenyan company produces 100,000 pairs a day and because of inadequate waste removal, many of those are destined for the ocean. The problem of flip flops littering beaches is not just aesthetic, but a health hazard to human and marine life. Read more on CNN World.

Did you know that flip flops are frequently seen bobbing around in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, that enormous, Texas sized, swirling gyro of ocean waste in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Flip Flops Are Forever

The world loves flip flops, they are comfortable, cheap and don’t fall apart in the weather. However, that’s also a big part of the problem, when they are discarded they don’t go away. They stay forever in landfills or make their way into the ocean. Many of the older and cheaper ones are made of non-recyclable plastics, that contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and phthalates, cadmium and lead, everything together makes these sandals carcinogenic to humans and toxic to animals and plants. So, a lot of these plastic compounds cannot be incinerated because of health concerns. But they can still be recycled.

We partner with Ocean Sole, in Kenya, who are turning flip flop pollution into art.

Don’t Turn Flip Flops Into Flotsam

There are solutions available, UniqueEco is a foundation that takes used sandals and recycles them into toys. UniquEco started on an island off the Kenyan coast, where locals began collecting the flip flops washed up on their beaches. About 170,000 or 80 tons of flip flops so far. A win-win, the beaches got rid of flip flop flotsam and local artisans are provided a living.

Terracycle shreds flip flops, melts and molds them into lumber that can be used in things like picnic benches. You can also buy doormats made of upcycled flip flops on Amazon. Or even dog beds at DIY Dreaming.

When Buying New Flip Flops: Make A Sustainable Choice

The good news is that Sea Sense Flip Flops are making biodegradable flip flops from natural rubber. So wherever your flip flops end up, they will not damage that environment. We also use profits from every sale to collect ocean-bound plastic from the world's most polluted rivers and coastlines.


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