When I was a kid, we used to recycle our worn out rubber sandals as toy boats. We used to punch a small hole in the middle of the rubber sandal and put a makeshift sail on it. At times, we would even make crude robots out of them.
Imagine my surprise when now that I am well into my middle age, I read about a construction worker who is trying to make ends meet, makes transformer robots out of worn out rubber sandals and he has even become viral in social media. Search: “rubber slipper art” in YouTube.
I was even more pleasantly surprised when I found that there are African companies who recycle worn out rubber sandals on a mass scale and turning them into all kinds of toys and works of art. Search: “sandals turned to art in Africa” in YouTube.
And these rubber sandal art can be as big as the real thing they were patterned out for. For example, these African companies make life size giraffe statue rubber sandal art. You might also be pleasantly surprised to know that they also make life size elephant statues.
As you can see, the simple imaginative ideas children like me have thought about rubber sandals have been turned to businesses. The only reason why people like me have not thought about making our rubber sandal into a business is because we think it wasn’t worth our while.
But the imaginative construction worker and the Africans have something working for them. They have access to a relatively good supply of worn out rubber sandals and they have plenty of time to think about what to do with them.
I don’t know if the construction worker is now making a full-time living with his worn out rubber sandals, but the Africans are thriving. They are already exporting on a commercial scale their products and are even doing promotional works overseas.
If you have watched some of the African videos about recycling worn out sandals, it is pointed out that rubber sandals from all parts of the ocean get deposited in African beaches, hence, Africans have free raw materials to work on and there are many Africans willing to work.
The situation might not be the same for your country, but you can try scouring the beaches and landfills in your country to try to find worn out sandals. You might even turn organize collection drives for people to donate their worn out sandals and shoes.
Having lived in a developing and a developed country, I saw firsthand the difference between how many people from both countries treat their footwear and their clothes for that matter. This I believe has to do with spending power.
While many people from developing countries tended to keep their footwear even though they are nearly worn out, many people from developed countries tend to throw out their footwear when they become bored with them even though they are still relatively new.
This I believe is the reason why there is a growing surplus of unwanted footwear in many developing countries which just ends up in the garbage bin. Having worked in the hotel industry for example, I saw firsthand how disposable things are to many people from developed countries.
There have been many times when I have been into the hotel rooms and other facilities used by people from developed countries. It won’t be hard for me to see them leaving the clothes, footwear, toiletries and other personal things they used.
They even leave the coins in their pockets because when they leave a country, it is of use no longer to them. My theory why there are so many rubber sandals floating in the ocean is because their owner’s vacations have already ended and they see no more use for the sandals.
And I see the problem getting worse and worse as disposable footwear especially rubber sandals get cheaper and cheaper. I predict that we would see more and more rubber sandals in the oceans, beaches, landfills and garbage bins.
That is why I believe that the people who recycle these rubber sandals would always have a steady supply of their raw materials for some time to come. They might actually see their supply of rubber sandals growing.
Another upside I am seeing in the rubber sandal recycling business is that the rubber sandals by their very composition are very sellable products. They can be a replacement for the polystyrene foam that people buy.
Just imagine the many uses polystyrene foam is used for. One thing for example polystyrene foam is used for is in model making of sculptures. As the Africans have proven, they can make a much more durable and nearly solid sculpture that won’t get easily damaged.
People can even play with sculptures made out of rubber sandals not unlike sculptures made from polystyrene foam. As such, people who market rubber sandal sculptures must think outside the box and go beyond just making mere sculptures.
Essentially, once the straps of a rubber sandal has been removed, it becomes some sort of a raw rubber thick material. If not for it’s relatively small size, it could have easily found mass use as a piece of thick rubber sheet.
But imagine if there were simple machines that could quickly cut these rubber sandals into rectangles. Imagine another simple machine drilling holes at the sides of these now squared shaped rubber sandals.
Then imagine a few people sewing all these square shaped rubber sandals now by putting a piece of string in the holes and tying all the square shaped rubber sandals together. What you would have now is essentially a thick rubber sheet that can be made into all sorts of products.
And the first thing that should come to our mind when we mention thick rubber sheets are Rubber Mats. I don’t know if you have seen one or can imagine one, but rubber sheets are already being used as doormats in houses around the world.
Big pieces of your rubber sheet/mat which were once rubber sandals can be for example used as weather and soundproofing for houses. I know that there are already products such as these which exists which are more complex, but they could offer an alternative.
Weatherproofing for example can only be applied as insulation on ceilings and walls, but rubber mats can also be used on floors as insulation and can be also used as an impact absorbent mat especially for children’s use.
Another use for square rubber sandals is as containers. They can become plant holders once they have been combined together. One thing good about this is that the rubber sandal does not even need to be cut into a square or rectangle to be made into containers.
Perhaps I’m not making myself clear. Let’s say that you have two pieces of recycled rubber sandals. You can cut the first sandal into a rectangle and then join the ends forming either a cylinder or a square with the top and bottom open.
You can then use the second piece of rubber sandal as the bottom and cover of the first sandal which has been made into a square or cylindrical container. You can increase the size of this container by using more rubber sandals.
Once you have created a rubber square or cylindrical container, you already have a new product which can be fashioned into other products. These containers can take the shape of pencil holders, plant holders and so on.
You might say: “But whose gonna pay for containers made out of rubber sandals?” The answer to this lies on presentation and marketing. I think the reason why the Africans succeeded in selling their recycled rubber sandals is because many of the buyers think they are doing the right thing.
As we all know, many people in society today are very conscious of the environment and would like to be perceived as environmentally conscious individuals. These same people might just be really into saving the environment.
In fact, the buyers of the African recycled rubber products are hitting two birds with one stone. They are giving livelihood to people in developing countries while also helping in the recycling of materials considered non-biodegradable.
As we all know, these recycled rubber sandals as toys, sculptures and other objects are no match for the professionally made versions made from other materials which are also made in sophisticated factories, but the perception that they are the “ethical” product makes them even more marketable.
So, when you are selling products made from recycled sandals, consider how your target market perceives your product. You might not have the best product in the world, but how you appeal to your target market’s feelings might just effect your sales.
Of course, you can’t simply appeal to your target market’s feelings just to make a sale. No matter how your target market want to champion your products, if they are ugly then it is highly unlikely that they would sell.
You should strive to capture the imagination of your target market. For example, you can sell a plain rubber mat made out of rectangular rubber sandals, but with a little twist, you can improve it’s marketability.
It is no secret that you cannot dictate the color of your recycled rubber sandals, but you can dictate how the rectangular rubber sandals will be arranged in terms of colors. You can for example create a two or three or even more color pattern for your rubber mats.
But you can improve your product even more by actually turning it into a piece of art. For example, you can create a wall mural made out of pieces of rubber sandals of different shapes. Below is a YouTube video which shows how you can make murals/paintings out of sandals:
YouTube Video: Ivorian artist makes portraits from flip-flops
My research online so far has only shown ways of recycling the foam of the rubber sandals and not the rubber straps as well. I don’t know if for example the Africans integrate the rubber straps to their recycled rubber products as well.
The only way I can think of so far for these rubber straps to be recycled is if they were made into bracelet trinkets. The circular endpoints which bind the straps to the rubber sandals can be used for tokens in board games for example and even as buttons.
As we can see, necessity might really be the mother of all inventions. The people who have access to surplus rubber sandals like the construction worker and the Africans in the YouTube video have found a way to make profit with these discarded materials.
And it looks like the surplus of rubber sandals would continue to rise as new sandals get cheaper and more and more people become inclined to thinking that they are mere disposable products.
Being a mostly city dweller type of a person, I was only able to see the inside of jungles and woodlands a couple of times in my life, and rivers and streams much less. But I am always enthralled at how nature seems to have made works of art the dried woods which have fallen off trees...