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Kenyan Artist Transforms Plastic Menace Into Functional Art

Tiwi Beach in Kwale, Kenya may at a distance look idyllic, but it’s outward beauty betrays problems that lurk on its shores.

Local artist Joel Oenga collects plastics from the ocean and then uses them to make furniture.

Frustrated by the amount of plastic gathering on the shore through litter and seafarers dumping the materials in the sea, he’s now taking the matter into his own hands.

“When you pass along the beach you find a lot of garbage,” he says.

“During the low tide, I go there every morning and collect garbage like plastics, the nets that can kill animals in the ocean like fish. Bamboo trees, logs wash up here in all areas. So, I saw it fit to clean up our beach since tourists come here a lot.”

Oenga waits for low tide, then begins collecting.

“These are the plastics that big ships throw in the ocean, anchors. I got almost 20 tonnes that were thrown from the ships. And then there are plastic bags,” he says.

“When it rains in these areas, any waste from plastics from cement bags we have got nets they are all brought to the ocean and I collect them on the shores and then I recycle. There are nets and plastics from the ocean, anything from the ocean, I have to make use of it. I don’t litter it on dry land. I make sure that anything I collect from the ocean I make something out of it.”

After collecting the plastic waste, he then takes it to his workshop and sorts it for drying and to make pieces of furniture.

He uses discarded ropes, for example, to make chairs.

He also gets some help from others in the community.

“I would like to get funds so I can put these things in a shop and start selling them,” he says.

“It will start generating money in that when money comes it will go back to the ocean whereby I will start employing people to clean it and I will make sure that Tiwi Beach is clean.”

So far, Oenga has not started selling his furniture, but estimates his pieces could be sold for around $200 USD.

He also faces challenges, for instance, lack of tools that would make his work easier, and a place to sell his furniture.

Edwin Mwenga Chokwe, chairman of community based organization Clean Mombasa CBO, says plastics are a menace on the beaches.

He says the problem is twofold.

“Once it remains on the beach, it clogs the mangrove, the breeding site for the fish,” he says.

“Secondly, some types of plastics is eaten by the fish. So, when the fish eat this, they think it is food, it is dangerous because they are actually dying. And eventually once the ecosystem is destroyed, then the beach will cease to be what it is supposed to be.”

For Chokwe, work on the part of people like Oenga is vital.

“He is creating good furniture and I think this should be lauded because it means at least that plastics will not find its way into the ocean,” he says.

Tiwi Beach is not an isolated case, much of the coast of Kenya faces problems with plastic waste.

Source : Africa News