Could Flip-Flops Be Destroying Our Planet?

Could your old flip-flops be killing marine animals?

The idea of flip-flops has been around for thousands of years, the early Romans wore sandals made from ox hide and the ancient Egyptians made theirs from papyrus or leather (if they could afford it). The modern day flip-flops that we all know so well is a recreation of Japanese Zori Sandals, which were made from bound straw and cloth. However, unlike the traditional sandals of the past, the flip-flops that are bought in mass today are made from plastic. 

Japanese Zori Sandals

Japanese Zori Sandals - Wikimedia Common

  • One company in Kenya has been recycling discarded flip-flops, creating products and artwork.
  • The initiative has helped the local economy and brought awareness to the plight of plastics in our oceans.

Thousands of discarded flip-flops are being washed up on East African beaches and threatening marine wildlife. With around 50% of them coming from East Asia, where cheap plastic flip-flops are the only type of shoe most of them can afford. As they are not made well they will break quickly, they are often repaired with duct tape and other means to mend them, however the average lifespan of a flip-flop is estimated at just 2 years.

Like with all plastics, flip-flops will not biodegrade, but in fact they photodegrade, meaning that as it breaks down it breaks into thousands of tiny pieces which plague our oceans and the life that lives within them. This process takes hundreds of years though, so until then these brightly colored flip-flops float around our oceans until they are eaten by marine life or washed up on the once beautiful beaches. 

Flip-flops on a beach

There is one company working to clean up the flip-flop problem. Since it was founded 1999 Ocean Sole has been working hard to clean up over 1,000 tonnes of flip-flops from the Ocean and waterways of Kenya! Not only that but they also are providing a steady income to over 150 low-income Kenyans! 

Inspired by the toys children were making out of the flip-flops washing up on the beaches of Kiwayu, Julie encouraged their mothers to collect, wash, and cut the discarded flip-flops into colourful products. She worked with them to develop the products and in 2005 the social enterprise was born promoting “trade not aid”.

Ocean Sole Medium Giraffes

A pair of medium giraffes made from collected flip-flops on sale at Ocean Sole UK -

So next time you are considering purchasing a pair of these beach loving shoes, please consider the marine life that is suffering and the damage being done to the coastlines. Look for an alternative to plastic, many places still supply and make canvas shoes, free from plastic and often more durable and comfortable than plastic flip-flops! 

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