Labor Day 2020: for many it’s a beach weekend in flip flops. Too often, beaches are strewn with broken or discarded flip flops that litter the sand and pollute the water. Enter an innovation: biodegradable flip flops from the University of California San Diego and the California Center for Algae Biotechnology.
Formula: take pond algae, dehydrate to a paste, extract lipids, run through series of chemical changes to produce polymers, pour resulting material into a mold. Present product, manufactured in partnership with Algenesis Materials, is 52% biodegradable and 48% petroleum; by 2025, the flip flops will be 100% made from renewables. If you do leave your flip flops at the beach, they’ll biodegrade and compost in 18 weeks.
It’s the world’s most popular shoe. Over three billion people wear only flip flops, but the footwear lasts only for about two years and is then discarded, eventually entering the world’s waters. East African beaches see 90 tons of discarded flip flops each year. Three billion flip flops end up in waterways and oceans every year. UniqueEco recycles old flip flops into toys; Terracycle shreds them to use for manufacturing picnic benches. DIY Dreaming uses old flips to make dog beds. Okabashi makes recyclable sandals, and Splaff and Sanuk use natural materials for footwear. But Algenesis may be the first to make flip flops from algae. The footwear industry generates $215 billion annually, and the plastic industry is worth $1.2 trillion. Algensis biodegradable flip flops will go on sale in January 2021.
California Center for Algae Biotechnology. https://algae.ucsd.edu/about/index.html
Elassar, Alaa. “Researchers create eco-friendly, biodegradable flip flops made of algae,” 23 August 2020. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/23/us/uc-san-diego-algae-flip-flops-trnd-scn/index.html
Frerck, Robert. “Flip Flop Factos: Find Out.” Blue Ocean Network. https://blueocean.net/flip-flop-facts-find-out
Segran, Elizabeth. “How one lab is turning algae into flip-flops – and taking on Big Plastic in the process.” 8 August 2020. Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/90543908/how-one-lab-is-turning-algae-into-flip-flops-and-taking-on-big-plastic-in-the-process/
Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp