Kenyans Swimming in Dollars From Waste Collected Along Mombasa Beaches

Ocean Sole employees while at work
  • Walking along the shores of most Mombasa beaches is an eyesore for most tourists but for a team of determined entrepreneurs, the garbage presented a solid business opportunity.

    In an effort to protect the environment as well as the lives of sea animals, the team started the Ocean Sole project aimed at turning the waste into pieces of art.

    According to the Smithsonian Institute, the world’s largest museum, the company, which has offices in both Kenya and the United States, decided to create art mimicking endangered animals because they sought to protect the environment.

    It employs over 100 artisans, most of whom are trained as wood carvers.

    Ocean Sole employees while at work.
    Oceans Sole

    The team is then tasked with collecting abandoned flip-flops along the ocean shoes which is then cleaned before gluing their rubber soles into blocks.

    “They sculpt the compressed blocks into animal shapes, jewelry, keychains and more. Larger pieces are formed around foam bases covered with overlapping soles, which are then carved, sanded and shaped,” read the report from the museum.

    Some of the products already created since the enterprise was formed include Giraffes, Starfish, Carmels, regular fish, elephants and antelopes among others.

    In 2014, two carvers, Francis Mutua Muvua and Jonathan Lento, exported Giraffe sculptures to Washington D.C. as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. 

    A nine-inch sculpture of a lion costs Ksh 4,700 (US$47) while that of a Zebra goes for Ksh 3,700 ($37) and a handmade recycled Whale Shark retails for Ksh3,700.

    Those seeking to buy a set of three sculpted safari animal parts with Ksh9,900 ($99) while a large pineapple fetches Ksh 13,000 ($130).

    Sculptures of extra large wall arts for elephants, rhinos, lions, hippos, buffallos and moose retail for Ksh 33,000 each while double extra-large sculptures go for Ksh165,000 each.

    The organisation collects 47,000kgs of flip-flops every year which has in turn educated over 10,000 beneficiaries.

    “Our social enterprise positively impacts over a 1,000 Kenyans through the collection of flip-flops and direct employment. We provide steady income to nearly 100 low-income Kenyans in our company.

    “We aim to recycle a million flip flops year, recycle over one tonne of styrofoam a month, and save over five hundred trees a year – by using flip flops instead of wood. We contribute over 10-15% of our revenue to beach cleanups, vocational and educational programmes as well as conservation efforts,” reads a statement from the organisation’s website.

    According to the MacArthur report, the state of water pollution globally has hit unprecedented levels with the filth expected to increase by 9.1 tonnes annually.

    As it stands, 150 million tonnes of plastic are already polluting the world’s oceans. It is expected that there will be more plastics in the ocean than fish by the year 2050.

    Ocean Sole’s employee gives a tour of the company: