Flip-flops are the world’s most popular shoe. They are lightweight, comfortable, affordable, and durable. In fact, the global market for flip-flops is expected to reach a whopping $23.8 billion by the year 2025.
But the popularity comes with a price. Flip-flops account for a troubling percentage of plastic waste that ends up in our landfills and oceans. As a result, demand for alternatives is compelling researchers to develop more sustainable versions of the popular footwear.
Scientists at the University of California San Diego have spent years working on this issue, and recently announced a breakthrough. According to a study recently published in Bioresource Technology Reports, the research team has formulated polyurethane foams – made from algae oil – to meet commercial specifications for mid-sole shoes and the foot-bed of flip-flops. In other words, the scientists have created sustainable, biodegradable, and consumer-ready materials that could replace plastics in some footwear.
The UC San Diego scientists collaborated with Algenesis Materials – a technology startup – on the research. Together, they worked to not only create the shoes, but to degrade them as well. The team tested their customized foams by immersing them in traditional compost and soil. The algae-based materials degraded after just 16 weeks.
The life of any material should be proportionate to the life of the product. The researchers point out that it doesn’t make sense to create a product that will last 500 years if it’ll only be used for a year or two.
The research team is currently working on production details with its manufacturing partners. The creation of biodegradable flip-flops that meet commercial footwear standards could eliminate tons of plastic waste from the environment.
Photo, posted December 12, 2019, courtesy of Flickr.