After reading about the African trade beads I have been working with, my sister wrote to tell me about a necklace she has that is made from flip-flops. Sounds kind of icky on the surface, but considering these flip-flops have traveled the Pacific ocean, they have probably been washed clean of foot dirt.
Every year, thousands of flip-flops wash ashore along the coast of Kenya, coming from as far away as Japan, although I don't know how you can tell the origin of the things for sure. They junk up the beaches and kill the marine life that tries to eat them. And now they provide jobs for people who would otherwise subsist on fishing.
A group called UniquEco works with locals to gather the sandals and recycle them into things like toys, sculptures, and jewelry. The 120 people involved in the program now earn more than they normally would and can move beyond just surviving.
My sister's necklace (ab0ve) was made by a single mother who had no options or skills to support herself or her children. To avoid prostitution or worse, she began making jewelry from scavenged flip-flops and earns enough to feed and house her family. She uses heat to turn the old rubber into refined one-of-a-kind beads.
Flip-flops. Who would have guessed? I can't stand the things, but at least someone is finding a use for them.
UniquEc0's wedsite is still under construction. In the mean time, they are operating from a Flickr site here. Go buy something.