Do you have a habit of buying new pairs of plastic flip flips each time summer rolls around? If you do, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans buy colorful flips flops they use and then discard when the colder weather starts to set in. The problem is, this mindless, monotonous routine many of us partake in each year is having a bigger effect on the environment then you probably ever imagined.
Your dirty and discarded flip flops are
piling up on the shores of Watamu on the once beautiful Kenyan coast.
This Is What Your Old Flip Flops Are Doing To The Environment
Erin Smith of Ocean Sole, a conservation group and recycling collective, spoke to CNN about the problem. “Over three billion people can only afford that type of shoe. They hang on to them, they fix them, they duct tape them, mend them and then usually discard them,” she said. She added that the average lifespan of a flip flop is about two years.
According to recent reports, at least eight million tons of plastic enters our oceans every year. One estimate explains that by the year 2050, there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish, by weight.
The majority of the flip flop debris in Kenya comes from Asia, India and China. The ocean current spreads it all along the East African coast. Smith told CNN that in Kibera, one of Nairobi’s largest slums, discarded flip flops blocked the area’s clean water supply.
The plastic flip flops continue to flood the oceans, posing a direct health hazard, and there is no hope of them biodegrading. The plastic pollution is a serious danger to marine life. Smith explained, “Our founder Julie Church back in the 90s discovered an entire beach … was just covered in flip flops. What she saw were not just dead fish that had been trying to eat in their natural habitat, but turtles unable to come up on to land and actually hatch.”
So What Can We Do To Help?
Smith said, “I think it’s time for us to start looking for an alternative shoe, or an alternative material, to fit that kind of fashion need. Our products need to evolve.”
The Adidas brand is experimenting with renewable materials. They have a sneaker collaboration with Parley for the Oceans, in which they use illegal deep-sea gillnets and recycled ocean plastic to build their product. Adidas is also experimenting with a material it calls AMSilk, in hopes of creating a biodegradable shoe packaged with an enzyme solution. This would allow owners to dissolve their sneakers when they’ve run their course.
While we wait for this technology to become readily available, it might be time to give your plastic flip flops a second thought.
Ellen Macarthur Foundation
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