These scientists are turning algae into biodegradable flip flops

Flip-flops may seem innocent, but the problem is that this type of footwear is so popular and affordable that it winds up making a significant portion of discarded plastics polluting oceans and seas. That’s not good, especially since they’re typically made with petroleum-based plastics that disintegrate into microplastics.

With that in mind, researchers at University of California, San Diego hope to make future beach visits both environmentally and fashion-friendly, with a new formula for biodegradable flip flops. Mike Burkart, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the public research university in San Diego, California, has developed a polymer from algae, which decomposes naturally.

“We begin by growing algae and we grow them in raceway ponds where we can grow them up to very high density,” said Burkart during a tour of the a lab for Reuters. “At that point when they are fully grown, we take the water out of them…and basically we’re able to get the algae down to a very viscous paste.”

“Then what we do is extract all the lipids out of that algae and it’s those lipids that we’re making our materials out of,” he said.

The laboratory initially made gasoline from algae before turning its attention to surfboards, and now the humble flip flop. “Almost every major shoe manufacturer has come to talk to us about the possibility of using our materials in their products,” Burkart said. 

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These scientists are turning algae into biodegradable flip flops

Flip-flops may seem innocent, but the problem is that this type of footwear is so popular and affordable that it winds up making a significant portion of discarded plastics polluting oceans and seas. That’s not good, especially since they’re typically made with petroleum-based plastics that disintegrate into microplastics.

With that in mind, researchers at University of California, San Diego hope to make future beach visits both environmentally and fashion-friendly, with a new formula for biodegradable flip flops. Mike Burkart, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the public research university in San Diego, California, has developed a polymer from algae, which decomposes naturally.

“We begin by growing algae and we grow them in raceway ponds where we can grow them up to very high density,” said Burkart during a tour of the a lab for Reuters. “At that point when they are fully grown, we take the water out of them…and basically we’re able to get the algae down to a very viscous paste.”

“Then what we do is extract all the lipids out of that algae and it’s those lipids that we’re making our materials out of,” he said.

The laboratory initially made gasoline from algae before turning its attention to surfboards, and now the humble flip flop. “Almost every major shoe manufacturer has come to talk to us about the possibility of using our materials in their products,” Burkart said. 

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