I could safely argue that if any of us looked in our wardrobes there are probably a pair of flip-flops languishing in the bottom, a long-lost memory of a trip somewhere hot and sunny. Although, given the current heatwave, many readers have probably dug them out and are wearing them as they read this article.
But what happens to flip-flops when they die? When their thong pops out of their base and they just become ‘flops’?
In a society now spurred to reduce the use of single use plastics, thanks to The BBC’s Blue Planet, and recent images of plastic waste washed up on the idyllic beaches of the Maldives, we have been sharply reminded of the fragility of the oceans and the ugliness of uncontrolled production, consumption and waste. The flip-flop (or in Australia the thong) may not sound like a major part of the tidal wave of bottles, bags, cartons and other rubbish deposited on shores all round the world – but it is.
In the ‘developed’ world they mean fun, sun and the start of the holiday season. Lose your inhibitions, socks or tights and let those crazy toes go free! Cheap (unless you go for the designer versions), cheerful, light and colourful, they sum up summer. There are even artists who specialise in painting flip-flops on canvas for folk to put on their walls, as reminders of the carefree vacation vibe. And where’s the harm? Who could object to such simple, innocent-looking items?
Flip-flops are not just holiday or leisure wear, though; for much of the world’s population, they are just normal, everyday footwear. For a start, they’re cheap: usually a tenth of the price of more formal shoes. And in temperate climates, you can get away with wearing them all year round, as your feet aren’t going to freeze. So, they are bought – and discarded – in their billions.
There are other flip sides to flip-flops. Firstly, they can’t be repaired as other footwear can. Secondly, the plastic or rubber they’re made of, and the manufacturing processes used, may contain all kinds of dangerous chemicals and substances toxic to humans and wildlife, as a study by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation showed. These harmful elements can leach out, both when they are worn and when they’re put into landfill.
Many more fail to make it into refuse systems – huge numbers flow down rivers and are washed up by strong tidal currents onto shorelines, often hundreds of miles from where they began. On the coast of Africa since the 1970s, projects to re-use abandoned flip-flops found on the beaches of countries like Kenya have employed local people, who recycle the materials to make sculptures, toys, textiles, jewellery and other products.
So how do we overcome the need for cheap footwear and also reduce the amount of plastic entering our water and landfills? Recycling!
It is possible to recycle our unwanted and broken flip-flops by shredding them and repurposing them into…new ones. Through a reasonably simple process, we can create something new and stop ruining the beaches that we actually like to visit whilst wearing them.
At Reverse The Tide, we have exactly this in mind. Providing recycling stations at festivals, beaches and airports to allow our cheap, seasonal footwear to be disposed of in an environmentally ethical manner and hopefully, reversing the horrible tides of waste washing up on our shores.
Reverse The Tide isn’t just about recycling and reusing, it is also a brand that has chosen to change perceptions and to reverse inequality. Through our use of branding and colour we hope to help a variety of groups within our society to gain the recognition and equality that they deserve. Less of out with the old and in with the new and more, change the old to improve the new.