It’s a whale of an idea. A biodegradable plastic that returns to the earth with a little bit of help.
Stella McCartney runway models… start your engines. A new biodegradable plastic is about to hit the fashion world. If you’ve ever been to the beach in Tel Aviv after a rainstorm you will notice the effects of plastics and micro-plastics rolling around in the sea. Storm sewers spit all manner of plastics out from the city sewers and among the detritus are unmatched plastic flip-flips and Crocks. Lost and floating flip-flops are such a problem in the Seychelles that a research team has come in to study the nightmare for the local fishermen.
Those who want to help the plastic problem offer a few solutions:
- Don’t buy plastic at all. But we want flip-flops. They are so handy and comfortable.
- Buy second-hand products, but this doesn’t really work with flip-flops and slides which are personal items.
- Make products recyclable, yet we know recycling doesn’t really work with the current state of plastics.
- Make plastic products 100% from natural items and make them biodegradable. It’s a challenge making a “plastic” from plants or minerals that doesn’t degrade when you are using it or when it gets wet.
An Israeli-Italian company, Balena, may have made our plastic dreams come true but they are hush about the source of raw materials, leaving us with cinnamon as a natural colorant to their first product, the Balena slide.
Balena, which means “whale” in Italian, is a nice combination of Italian craftsmanship and design matched with Israeli innovation. Balena claims their new shoe BioCir Slides are 100% biodegradable, which means a complete return to the earth and not in tiny plastic bits. This is the shoes are returned to their own facility where a special process breakdowns BioCir to natural materials.
The shoes, which are both flexible and compostable, will not decompose when you are wearing them or when they get wet, but when their treads are thin and the shoes’ life is over, you can send them back and be rest assured that they will be processed back to the earth.
The company is not presenting itself as a design house but more of a bio-plastics product and material company that has launched a product to prove its impact. They have sent 1000 pairs to Tel Aviv, a city of people who wear flip-flops and slides to all occasions including weddings.
BioCycling, they note, is the ability to control a product’s end-of-life status. The Balena product goes through decomposition and biodegradation in a biological environment without leaving any waste or contamination behind that could be dangerous to the earth and seas.
More on BioCir and the plastic recycling system
Balena’s BioCir, is according to Balena, “the first fully moldable, biodegradable elastomer, provides a viable alternative to the polluting plastic materials currently used by fashion brands for clothing and footwear.”
Its BioCycling facility helps complete the end of life cycle for the shoes, or for any materials made from BioCir. Once a customer has finished using the slides, instead of tossing them into the garbage on their way to a landfill, they can instead return them to designated take-back spots throughout the city where they are collected for full biodegradation.
This model, aimed at reducing fashion’s contribution to plastic waste, can be replicated around the world. But it will only work if BioCir finds a dominant place in the market. Even with easier to recycle items like batteries, there are depots for collections in cities, consumers still toss them into the trash.
The world is addicted to fast fashion. Balena aims to create a circular model that relies on the power of composting to lower fashion’s footprint on the global environment.
The biodegradable material Balena creates can be used in injection molding and integrated into existing manufacturing lines for plastics, the company maintains.
“The global fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters. At Balena, our goal is to help turn this around,” said David Roubach, Founder and CEO of Balena.