By Kim Robson:
We’ve already heard about sustainable footwear made from pineapple waste or carbon dioxide. Now, running shoe manufacturer Adidas is making encouraging strides in developing shoe materials that are biodegradable or repurposed from ocean trash.
In the first case, Adidas has produced a prototype shoe called Futurecraft, made from a biodegradable artificial spider silk that can be liquefied when the shoes have worn out (estimated lifetime is about two years). Just immerse the shoes in a bucket of water, add a digestion enzyme called proteinase, and let them soak for about 36 hours. The enzymes break down the protein-based fiber, leaving behind only the foam sole, which still requires separate disposal. The liquefied silk can then be tossed onto the ground or even rinsed down the drain.
The artificial spider silk is spun into a synthetic biopolymer fiber called Biosteel, manufactured by a German company called AMSilk. The details of the manufacturing process are proprietary, but we know that Biosteel textile is created by fermenting genetically modified E. coli bacteria. The process creates a powder substrate, which is then spun into Biosteel fiber. According to Adidas, the process uses a fraction of the electricity and fossil fuel required to produce plastics.
Biosteel fiber is available for all sorts of high performance applications:
- High-performance active sportswear
- Active sports footwear
- Premium automotive interiors
- Home and interior design for furniture
- Technical and medical workwear
Adidas’ Futurecraft shoes are fifteen percent lighter than most running shoes. They’re strong, durable, nonallergenic, vegan and biodegradable. And, no, they won’t melt if they get wet because the proteinase enzyme is required in order to break down the fiber.
As for the soles, Adidas says that if the shoes go into production, they will develop a sustainable sole. James Carnes, VP of strategy creation at Adidas, wants the company to be “moving beyond closed loop and into an infinite loop — or even no loop at all.”
Another new concept prototype shoe from Adidas is made from recaptured illegal plastic gillnets, while simultaneously making a powerful statement about ocean trash. The shoe is part of the Parley for the Oceans program, a UN organization cofounded by Adidas that aims to raise awareness about ocean pollution and climate change. Gillnets are fine mesh nets designed to let only a fish’s head, not the rest of its body, pass through. As the fish struggles, the net slips behind its gills and prevents its escape. The nets were confiscated from a poaching vessel off the coast of West Africa by the conservation group Sea Shepherd. The knitted shoe produces less waste than traditional shoe-making techniques, as it creates no waste in the process of cutting out a pattern.
Cyrill Gutsch, founder of Parley for the Oceans, says that the real objective is to reinvent an alternative to plastic that can biodegrade without being harmful to the environment. “We need a plastic that is not the current plastic — it’s a design failure. It causes a lot of problems. Plastic doesn’t belong in nature, it doesn’t belong in the belly of a fish, it doesn’t belong out there. The ultimate solution is to cut into this ongoing stream of material that never dies, is to reinvent plastic.”
In the footwear industry, most products are made from plastic polymers and disposed of in landfills when they’ve worn out. Adidas is considering their products’ end-of-life and total impact on the environment.