Kenyan Artist Converts Plastic Waste Into Useful Furniture.

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Tiwi Beach in Kwale, Kenya, may present a picturesque scene from a distance, yet its external beauty conceals underlying challenges affecting its shores.

Local artist Joel Oenga has taken it upon himself to address the escalating issue of plastic pollution. He actively collects discarded plastics from the ocean, ingeniously transforming them into functional pieces of furniture. His motivation stems from frustration with the increasing amount of plastic litter accumulating on the shore, largely due to the careless disposal practices of both locals and seafarers.

While strolling along the beach, Oenga encounters a significant amount of garbage. During low tide, he diligently conducts morning cleanups, targeting plastics and nets that pose threats to oceanic life, including fish. Additionally, bamboo trees and logs wash up on the beach, prompting Oenga to initiate cleanup efforts to preserve the beach’s allure, especially given its popularity among tourists.

Oenga strategically times his efforts with low tide, enabling him to collect plastics, including those discarded by large ships such as anchors, totaling nearly 20 tonnes. He also addresses the issue of rain-induced plastic waste, ensuring responsible recycling practices rather than contributing to pollution on dry land.

Expressing his commitment, Oenga emphasizes that anything collected from the ocean should be repurposed, avoiding further environmental harm. He underscores the importance of recycling and crafting something meaningful out of the collected materials rather than letting them litter the coast.

 


Post-collection, Oenga transports the plastic waste to his workshop, where he meticulously sorts and dries the materials to create unique furniture pieces. Utilizing discarded ropes, among other materials, he transforms them into functional chairs, showcasing creativity in the face of environmental challenges.

Community support plays a significant role in Oenga’s initiative. While he faces challenges such as the lack of tools and suitable sales venues, his vision extends beyond crafting furniture. Oenga envisions establishing a shop to sell his creations, with the generated funds dedicated to sustaining ongoing beach cleanup efforts. He plans to employ individuals from the community, creating a positive cycle where funds circulate back into preserving Tiwi Beach’s cleanliness.

Although Oenga has not initiated the sale of his furniture pieces, he estimates their potential value at around $200 USD each. However, obstacles, including a shortage of tools and a suitable market, present challenges to the realization of his vision.

Edwin Mwenga Chokwe, chairman of the Clean Mombasa CBO, sheds light on the broader issue of plastics menacing beaches along the coast of Kenya. He outlines a twofold problem where plastic debris left on the beach not only obstructs vital fish breeding sites like mangroves but also poses a direct threat to marine life as some types of plastics are consumed by fish.

Chokwe emphasizes the significance of individuals like Oenga, acknowledging their vital role in mitigating environmental challenges. By repurposing plastics into functional furniture, Oenga actively prevents them from finding their way back into the ocean. Chokwe commends such initiatives, recognizing that they contribute to preserving the delicate balance of ecosystems, preventing further harm to the beaches.

The challenges faced by Tiwi Beach are not unique; many parts of Kenya’s coastline grapple with the pervasive issue of plastic waste. Chokwe’s insights underscore the urgent need for community-driven initiatives to address environmental threats and ensure the sustainable preservation of coastal areas.

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