Hero of the Week: Nattapong Nithi-Uthai and Thailand’s Trash Heroes

Nattapong Nithi-Uthai, a lecturer at the Faculty of Science and Technology of Prince of Songkla University in Thailand was shocked five years ago to realize the sheer amount of ocean debris that washes up on the beaches in his country. Thailand has a serious problem with ocean plastic —  it is the fifth biggest contributor in the world to ocean debris.

At the time, Nattapong was coaching a team of students to upcycle waste as part of a Thai young leaders program, and his team developed a business that would turn discarded flip-flops from Thai beaches into new ones of higher quality and value. They called the company Tlejourn, which means ‘wandering across the sea’ in Thai.

Today, Tlejourn has grown into a social enterprise that recycles ocean waste and also supports the local economy, as well as raising public awareness about marine debris through its products – flip-flops. They partner with a global environmental organization of volunteers called Trash Hero to supply the needed “raw materials” – discarded flip-flops – for its production.  Trash Hero has more than 330,000 volunteers worldwide (they have a New York City chapter) and collected around 1.65 million kg of garbage, including at least 36 million plastic bottles. The flip-flops are sold at retailers throughout Thailand.


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