How can you help restore the Earth this Earth Day?
I will never forget when I was 12, sitting in a physics lesson in my little school in Nairobi and the teacher spoke to us about how we could possibly deal with all the trash in the world. He explained that waste was going to be one of the biggest problems future generations would face. The whole class chimed in with different ideas; “recycling!”, “burying it underground!” and he replied by saying the best option we had would be to fire huge rockets filled with trash into space...
Fast forward 13 years and we are in the midst of a global pollution crisis, with no trash filled rockets flying into space, only trash filled oceans. I thought back to that day in prep school and remembered the words of my psychics teacher. Because it never seems like it will be your problem to deal with until it really is.
When I started my role at Ocean Sole, I knew they were doing great things, I knew they turned recycled flip flops into amazing and colourful art, but really, I didn't know the full extent of what they did.
When we think of ocean pollution, we think of plastic straws and plastic bags but we may rarely think of flip flops. I should add, these are still the ocean's greatest plights, any trash that ends up in the ocean is.
Flip flops however, are arguably not often in the forefront of our minds when it comes to ocean trash, and that is where Ocean Sole comes in.
The problem starts in hot emerging countries, where nearly 3 billion people wear flip flops. This is not only due to circumstances such as the weather and environment but due to them being the most affordable footwear for people in these countries.
Although flip flops are relatively durable they have a lifespan of around two years and when their time is done most of them end up in landfills and then eventually in oceans and waterways. Like all plastic and synthetic rubber products, they don't disintegrate over night and what is left of them erodes into microplastics which are close to impossible to collect.
Microplastics have become a more worrying problem for our oceans and there is still little research on the amount of damage they have caused. This is probably because microplastic pollution has only come to light in recent years. Studies have shown traces of microplastic not only in larger vertebrates but also in species as small as plankton.
It is impossible to know how many flip flops are floating around in our oceans. To put it into perspective, since Ocean Sole was started in 2006, we have collected over 638 tonnes of flip flops. That is the equivalent of 114 fully grown elephants.
Now you might be wondering how and what you can do to help?
It’s easy to make the swap from plastic straws to paper ones and the swap from plastic bags to reusable ones. But what about flip flops?
Luckily there are a growing number of innovative companies who are tackling the flip flop pollution problem from the source.
- One such company, Sole, is making flip flops from sustainably sourced cork. Swapping to cork flip flops is one option to help stop flip flop pollution.
- Indosole are making footwear from recycled tyres, yes you read the right. These shoes are a true dedication to style and sustainability!
- Another more recent creation comes from scientists at UC San Diego. They have managed to create flip flops from biodegradable algae.
- Keep hold of them, turn them into a door stop, use them as pool toys.
- If you really can't stand to see your old flip flops lying around the house, why not go to Earth 911. It's simple, type in your zip code and what you'd like to recycle and they will show you a list of all the possible places you can drop them off at.
We just hope these tips help you make more conscious decisions next time you need a new pair of flip flops and what to do with your old ones.
Happy Earth Day - what are you going to do today to help restore our Earth?