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Vivobarefoot & Balena partner on 3D-printed biodegradable shoe innovation

Certified B Corporation Vivobarefoot and Balena are creating circular 3D-printed shoes utilizing biomimetic design ideas, additive manufacturing processes, and Balena’s BioCir flex material promising to be biodegradable and recyclable in the most needed era for sustainability.

Vivobarefoot is a minimalist running shoe manufacturer. Their technique, designed by Tim Brennan and developed by British shoe firm Terra Plana, aims to provide the best biomechanics and posture associated with barefoot walking and barefoot running and is widely promoted in the barefoot movement and barefoot running communities. Balena is trying to give their high tech input in the cause to make the desired goal fulfilled throughout the world, founded in 2020, it is a material science company that provides biobased, compostable, recyclable thermoplastic materials such as BioCir® for a variety of industries. BioCir® uniquely combines the high-performance properties such as durability and flexibility of traditional plastics with the ability to biodegrade safely in industrial compost facilities when the products reach the end of their life.

The production and consumption of textiles generate greenhouse gas emissions, in particular from resource extraction, production, washing and drying, and waste incineration. Textile products consumed in the EU generated greenhouse gas emissions of 121 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in total, or 270kg CO2e per person. While the previous pathways focused on ‘slowing down the loop’, the last pathway on recycling and material reuse ‘closes the loop’. By reducing resource use and prolonging the useful life of textiles, the sustainability model enables the loop to be closed by turning waste textiles into raw material for new textiles or other production chains. Effective and biodegradable materials usage with footwear can drastically reduce carbon emissions from the earth.

Figure: VivoBarefoot and Balena with an ambitious new partnership to address the harmful impacts of the footwear industry through the combination of technology and material science inspired by nature.

Balena’s 3D-printing specific material – the BioCir3D – being based on the BioCir®flex technology, maintains high flexibility similar to TPU, providing reliable and long-lasting 3D-printed products. At the same time, it is biobased and industrially compostable, reducing the environmental impact of discarded prints and for the first time enabling 3D printing of flexible and durable items while giving them the unique property of biodegradability.

Shoes disintegrate slowly, and certain materials can linger in landfills for hundreds of years. The American Textile Recycling Service estimates that the recycling rate for footwear is a meager 13%, yet they make up a major amount of landfill rubbish. Traditional TPU is not biodegradable and adds to plastic waste. Its BioCir®flex substance is a high-performance, long-lasting, flexible, totally industrially biodegradable, and recyclable thermoplastic elastomer. It has more than 50% bio-based content and actively lowers reliance on harmful, fossil fuel-based materials often utilized in the footwear industry, such as TPU.

The remarkable adaption of 3D printing is also seen in the case of Vivobarefoot shoes and their modification. Shoemakers have been experimenting with 3D printing for years. Adidas, NikeNKE, New Balance, Dior, Reebok, and Fendi are the top footwear and apparel brands to release 3D-printed limited edition shoes. The use of 3D printing has been causing a revolution in the billion-dollar shoe business for some time now.3D printing allows manufacturers to make each pair of shoes on-demand, or at least fewer pairs, attracting those looking to reduce waste. There’s also the appeal of having greater freedom to create shoes for particular consumers and alter designs more frequently without incurring the exorbitant expenditures of new production molds and tooling.

The world is going towards a circular future in this era of technology. Global fashion brands are trying to cope with the demand of customers to have more down-to-earth technological fashion items on their shelves. A reasonable understanding of the necessity of nature-induced items such as biodegradable shoes can revolutionize the footwear industry as a whole. More sustainable textiles such as vivobarefoot can be a way ahead for the upcoming war with fashion waste.

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