For years now, Lake Taihu, a large freshwater lake in eastern China, has been a site of huge algae blooms, which for a time left over two million people living in the area without safe drinking water. The country has been taking steps to fight the problem and restore the ecological balance of the lake. Now, the efforts to stop the pollution of Taihu have been joined by a company with an atypical mission – creating a material made, in part, of the algae harvested from the lake.
The innovative material is currently used to make a new and unique kind of footwear designed by the company Vivobarefoot. Their water-resistant Ultra III shoes are normally made out of petroleum-based etyhylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), but instead, the new version of the product is made of a blend of EVA and the harvested algae. At the moment, the proportion is 60 percent EVA to 40 percent algae – and the company is working on a material that uses even more algae in their formulation.
According to the Vivobarefoot blog, the shoe is launched in collaboration with Bloom Foam, a company based in Mississippi that is “the world’s first plant-based, high-performance solution to synthetic and petroleum-based flexible foams.” In order to get enough green goo to create one pair, Bloom has to filter 57 gallons of lake water. Afterward, the water is returned to Taihu – clean and algae-less. Bloom cleans the water using specialized mobile platforms that gently and gradually suck the algae out of the water. Not to mention this process prevents the equivalent of 40 balloons full of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere in petroleum savings. Sounds like a pretty good deal to us!
Algae blooms are an extremely dangerous result of heightened water pollution, usually caused by manure and fertilizer runoff from agricultural fields. The pollution causes algae to grow at an uncontrollable rate, which, in turn, can cut off oxygen and sunlight from the deep waters of the waterways, creating what are known as “dead zones” where nothing can live. Some species of algae release toxins when they die, causing more harm. To make the situation even worse, climate change is causing the problem to develop further, as algae grow more quickly in warm water.
Bloom’s original material is an ingenious way to clean the lake – it takes the algae out of the water before it becomes harmful to the environment and gives it a completely new life. The final product is sturdy and aesthetically pleasing – and it gets even better when we remember that its production has a great and much needed impact the environment. “It feels and looks a little better than EVA,” explained Asher Clark, Vivobarefoot’s creative director, about the algae material, “and it smells like spirulina.”
Hey, we’ll take shoes that smell like spirulina if it means that we can help stop aquatic dead zones!
Image source: Vivobarefoot