NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia Zoo in Norfolk has more than 5,700 flip-flop animals for sale in the gift shop, and only 22 other zoos and aquariums across the United States and Canada are selling them.
In a news release, the zoo’s executive director Greg Bockheim said, “My wife and I discovered these while we were traveling in Africa, and I thought, ‘what an amazing way to create artwork and support conservation at the same time.’ So we brought them here, and now we’re helping zoos across North America offer them to their visitors, as well.”
Flip-flops are one of the largest marine pollutants in the Indian Ocean, and thousands of them wash up on the world’s shorelines, creating an environmental disaster for the marine ecosystem, according to a Virginia Zoo press release.
To help conserve marine environments, the Zoo is working with Ocean Sole, a flip-flop recycling company in Nairobi, Kenya, to recycle discarded flip-flops. Artists from Kenya collect and scrub the foamy footwear, then carve sand and sculpt it into colorful patchwork animals.
The flip-flops are also used to create jewelry, picture frames and other items, ranging from $7.50 for pencil toppers to $750 for jumbo animals at the Virginia Zoo’s gift shop. Proceeds go to habitat conservation projects and the Zoo’s Animal Wellness Campus.