These Flip-Flops Are Made From Algae!

UC San Diego steps forward with biodegradable footwear.

Oct 27, 2020


These Flip-Flops Are Made From Algae! | UC San Diego steps forward with biodegradable footwear.

Comfortable, inexpensive, and easy to wear, flip-flops are very popular footwear. In fact, they are the number one shoe worn in China, India, and Africa, with some three billion flip- flops made per year, according to Dr. Stephen Mayfield in a video from University of California, San Diego. 

As they easily break and wear out, they are thrown away and eventually pollute the seas and beaches. Mayfield and his team at UC San Diego have put their best foot forward to solve this issue by inventing biodegradable flip-flops.

Flip-flops, known as thongs in Australia, are made from plastic-based polymers that can take hundreds of thousands of years to decompose, Mayfield said in the video. In fact, their research on Science Direct reports that of the six billion metric tons of plastic waste that has been generated in the past 50 years, 79 percent has ended up in landfills and in nature.

Motivated to fix this situation, Mayfield and students at UC San Diego spent years researching, discovering a natural, biodegradable alternative: algae. They first grow the algae and then extract the water until they have a thick, sticky paste, biochemistry professor Mike Burkart told Now This News. The lipids are then taken out and placed in a mold, resulting in a soft foam, ideal for flip-flops.

Not only are they biodegradable, the process is environmentally-friendly. When using algae, carbon is captured from the atmosphere as opposed to being pulled from underground as is done when making plastic from polymers, according to UC San Diego. And, algae can grow anywhere in the world, including in non-potable water and on land that is infertile, as written on Science Direct.

In order to market their product, they formed a startup called Algenesis Materials. Algenesis has already taken a more rigid version of the algae to create a surfboard, with sales in the surfing community quickly going viral.

And now the biodegradable flip-flop is creating excitement among top shoe manufacturers, according to Burkart. There are also other possibilities for this foam, including replacing foam food packaging with a biodegradable algae substitute.

An important part of the research involved carefully monitoring the biodegradation process, according to the UC San Diego News Center. They placed the algae flip-flops in soil and compost, then measured the molecule shed as well as identified the microorganisms that were helping degrade the algae foam. The flip-flips took 12 weeks to completely biodegrade, according to the team’s Science Direct report.

The researchers are passionate about healing the environment and believe that consumers must shift their focus away from purchasing the cheap, disposable items. Mayfield told CBS 8 San Diego, “The mindset has to change when buying products. It’s not just the cost of the actual ‘bag’ you buy, it’s the cost to the environment when we throw that bag away.”

The team at UC San Diego has stepped up to the plate and hopes everyone will soon be wearing biodegradable flip-flops, repairing beaches and seas, and ensuring a healthy future for all.

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Nicole is an editor, blogger and author who has recently left her urban life in order to be more connected with nature. In her spare time, she’s outdoors hiking in the forest, mountain biking or tending to her new permaculture garden.