LONDON - Furloughed from her job and confined to London by coronavirus lockdowns, Flora Blathwayt founded a business based on rubbish she retrieves from the muddy banks of the River Thames.

Just over a year after she was struck by the colourful pieces of plastic she collected as part of a river clean-up, the 34-year-old makes and sells thousands of greetings cards decorated with them each week.

When she moved to Peckham in south-east London, she sent a batch of plastic-decorated cards to nearby residents offering help if they were shielding from COVID-19.

"They were all the first washed-up cards," she said. "Some of my neighbours were like 'these are amazing, you should start selling these'," she told Reuters.

She now works on the cards alongside a part-time job for a company selling packaging made from seaweed which she joined after being furloughed by, and then made redundant from, a business that makes sauces from unwanted fruit and vegetables.

A geography graduate, she had no formal art training but enjoys being outside and finding new potential in old buttons or plastic straws while cleaning the river bank for a local environmental charity.

She now produces around 4,000 cards a week, she said, and sees her success as part of a wider movement.

"I think the way forward will be people making things and starting businesses which don't have so much impact on the environment, whether it's reusing something, whether it's upcycling something, whether it's making something from waste. I think that's the way forward," she said.

"So I hope people are going to do more and more - and they are. I'm by no means the first."

(Additional reporting Jonathan Shenfield; writing by Philippa Fletcher; editing by Giles Elgood)