Flips flops are the most popular shoe in the world. They are the preferred shoe of fishermen and farmers in China and India, as well as the favored shoe of beachgoers the world over. Pretty much all of them are made from petroleum-based products, and over 3 billion pair are produced worldwide each year. The problem with this is that every single one of these non-biodegradable shoes will eventually end up in a landfill or polluting the world’s waterways. In fact, polyurethane from shoes is one of the largest pollutants in the world’s oceans.
A team of researchers and students at the University of California at San Diego is trying to do something to curb the pollution that is caused by polyurethane flip flops. To do so, they have developed an eco-friendly pair of flip flops that is made from algae.
Originally, the team had intended to combat the pollution caused by petroleum-based surfboards. Their idea was the same: to make a biodegradable, algae-based surfboard. While the algae-based surfboards have become quite popular in the surfing industry, the team soon realized that their new technology could have a bigger impact if it was used to make flip flops, since so many of them are tossed away each year.
Since petroleum is formed from ancient plant material, living algae is basically petroleum waiting to happen. The research team converted the living algae into petroleum and then into polyurethane. By making polyurethane this way, carbon is being pulled from the atmosphere instead of from the ground. This prevents carbon from being released into the atmosphere, which is the main cause of global warming. The researchers are also working on ways to make their polyurethane more biodegradable, which will make the flip flops even more eco-friendly.
The UC San Diego team has formed a company called Algenesis Materials in order to bring their product to market. The flip flop, called the Triton, will be their first product, but they hope to produce many more “green” products in the near future, including car seats, shoe soles, and even car tires. They plan to start selling the Triton sometime in 2018.