By Chenelle Fernando
Flip-flops (rubber slippers) are an islander’s friend. To survive in the tropics is to own at least two pairs of flip-flops at a time. However, discarding these would result in unthinkable damage to the ecosystem and its inhabitants. FlipYarn, a spanking new initiative by Parkville, collects flip-flops from across Sri Lanka and renders them into upcycled sunglasses and other accessories.
We spoke to Parkville Founder Hugo Kaempfer to obtain a better understanding of the issue at hand. He revealed that up to 40% of the global population uses flip-flops daily – that is approximately three billion people worldwide. They are the number one footwear for countries like China, India, Africa, and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has the capacity to generate around 50 million-plus pairs every year.
An average Sri Lankan goes through around two pairs of flip-flops a year, which sums up to approximately 14 million flip-flops being thrown out annually.
Similar to the plastic/polythene menace, discarding flip-flops incorrectly continues to ravage ecosystems surrounding inhabitants as they take hundreds to thousands of years to reach degradation, and creates micro plastics that can be equally catastrophic. This is primarily attributed to the raw materials that compound together during flip-flop production, such as rubber, plastic, and foam. The addition of chemicals makes the flip-flop glossy, tough, heat and stress resistant, and ensures it retains its colour.
As days go by, more and more flip-flops are being washed up onto our pristine beaches, and is now becoming of a greater tragedy. “You have whales, turtles, and marine life where when they die and you open them up, you see whole flip-flops inside them,” added Kaempfer. In addition to this, breeding grounds of species such as crabs and other animals that seek refuge along these same beaches are forced to reckon with devastation. “We did a beach clean-up and I got a whole bunch of people to come and help out. In a stretch of 15 metres, in 20 minutes, we filled up two rice bags with washed up flip-flops. That was something that helped them really understand what the issue is,” shared Kaempfer.
It all began when Kaempfer was walking his dog Boo, who now also happens to be the star of the show. Whenever he walked her, she would almost always pick up flip-flops and ultimately collected a mountain of flip-flops at Kaempfer’s residence. “And I just started having this collection of flip-flops and I didn’t know what to do with them and there was no way to recycle them. They’re made from plastic, foam, rubber, and a bunch of chemicals that are clearly very difficult to recycle,” he said.
Digging deeper into the matter, he was able to realise that oceans, landfills, and even sidewalks down the street were littered with flip-flops that were scattered everywhere.
The aforementioned disturbing numbers prove that despite the fact that flip-flops are worn far and wide, people fail to think about what happens to them once they are thrown out or discarded.
Kaempfer continued: “Everyone focuses on plastic straws, plastic bags, and those kinds of things, but no one thinks about the most common footwear on the planet. Over three billion people wear flip-flops on a regular basis and there is no way to recycle them anywhere in the world. Unlike glass or any other metal, there is almost nothing you could do with it.”
As a means of addressing this issue, FlipYarn was created to enable the collection of discarded flip-flops and later, the making of fun creations such as sunglasses, necklaces, and bracelets. “The whole idea is that it’s fun and colourful, and something a bit different to tackle something that is a real issue. The issue itself is something that drove us to do this,” incited Kaempfer.
Having resided in the UK before any of this, Kaempfer moved to Sri Lanka around four-and-a-half years ago when he started Parkville, which provides eco-friendly solutions such as wooden sunglasses, hairbrushes, homeware, furniture, and even signboards. “Because we were already making sunglasses, when we looked into this, it seemed like the logical thing to do. The whole idea behind it being colourful and fun is to raise awareness on this unbelievable manmade disaster that is getting worse by the day.”
To those wondering, upcycled products, unlike recycled products, are the result of creating something entirely new using the original material. As these upcycled creations are manufactured through the use of discarded flip-flops, we were led to raise the question of how hygienic the ultimate product is. Commenting on the hygiene factor, Kaempfer assures that the products are succumbed to a thorough process of sanitation, stating: “When we get them, we wash them in water and soap and leave them to soak in disinfectants. Once they go through that process, we then sand them down; i.e. getting rid of the entire outer layer and dirt to get a fresh interior that we can use. We then create these products out of that. Then we wash it again one more time. That allows us to ensure that what we are using is something that is fully sanitised and safe to wear.”
The Kickstarer campaign for FlipYarn by Parkville was initiated on 20 August and its products will be available for display at the Good Market. A pair of sunglasses could be purchased for $ 37 throughout the course of the campaign, which concludes in 18 days. The product could later be purchased at the retail price of $ 50.
Photos © Parkville