Sustainable Manufacturing and Environmental Pollution Programme: Mitigating Plastic Pollution through Heritage Boat Building

  • Bowyer, Cressida (PI)
  • Roberts, Keiron (CoI)
  • Pabari, Dipesh (CoI)
  • Ngei, Davina (CoI)
  • Warwick, Mick (CoI)
  • Elleke, Katharina (CoI)
  • Scott-Harden, Simon (CoI)
  • Obura, David (CoI)
  • Skanda, Ali (CoI)
  • Palma, Paola (CoI)

Project Details


In order to create a circular economy for already used plastics on small islands developing states, a localised solution must be established that actively reduces ocean bound plastics from growing emerging consumer populations and incoming plastics brought by the currents.

A significant percentage of the plastics are recyclable, and affordable products can be made for local markets if the infrastructure and expertise is locally available supported by a functioning network of community-based waste management schemes. Furthermore, sustainability of such a circular economy network will depend on traditional knowledge systems and cultural heritage central to the design.

Along the Indian Ocean, Dhows (a generic term for a number of different types of traditional sailing boats used in the Indian Ocean) are made from hardwood such as mvuli (teak), mango and mahogany. Other traditional boats along the Coast are also made from hardwood which is quickly depleting and increasingly expensive to source.
Our project seeks to tackle today’s marine ecosystem health and sustainability challenges through combining indigenous knowledge and modern innovation, specifically through the construction of traditional sailing and motorised vessels from plastic waste.

Our innovative project concentrates on Lamu archipelago, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a centre for dhow building. It involves collaborating with coastal residents, organisations, authorities, local businesses and a consortium of interdisciplinary experts to reduce, collect and transform plastic waste into a construction material for boatbuilding.

Our proposal is based on our successful prototype development, which in 2018 resulted in the world’s first traditional sailing dhow made, in Lamu, out of 7 tonnes of waste plastic collected from Kenya’s shores and towns and covered in about 30,000 found flip flops (slippers).

To achieve our goal of establishing a closed loop economy for discarded plastics as a mainstream construction material for traditional sailing and motorised vessels, our proposal aims for the following:

1) Accelerate Research & Design (R&D) into improving the structural integrity of our prototype, scaling up design and engineering in order to build different types of vessels, and exploring complementary products that can be developed and sold using our existing knowledge, infrastructure and market reach.

2) Establish a heritage boat building training centre to teach traditional techniques for boat building as well as modern techniques for working with recycled plastic. This centre also aims to provide a hub for incubating indigenous knowledge and design systems that are inherently circular in order to build the talent pool that can provide technical support to the increasing number of circular economy initiatives around the region, such as ours.

3) Establish a centralised Material Recovery Centre for plastics - the first of its kind in the Lamu archipelago, serving a population of 140,000+. This centre will work closely with a community led network to a) extract existing plastic waste (land and ocean based) and use it as feedstock for the training centre and for the commercial arm of the project, b) prevent additional plastic from reaching the ocean, and c) create a sustainable closed-loop economy for waste management within the archipelago, thus creating an appropriate waste management system for discarded plastics across the archipelago.

Layperson's description

The Mitigating Plastic Pollution through Heritage Boat Building funded through the SMEP programme will develop mechanisms to recover waste plastic within the homes and environment in the Kenyan Island community of Lamu to build boats.
Utilising creative techniques, educational tools and site research, the University of Portsmouth will help deliver this ambitious circular economy project to improve livelihoods, health and the environment.
Short titleSustainable Manufacturing and Environmental Pollution Programme
Effective start/end date1/01/2217/06/24

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land
  • SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals


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