If the Compostable Shoe Fits | God's World News

If the Compostable Shoe Fits

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    Vivobarefoot’s 3-D printed shoes are made of materials that can break down more easily than plastics. (Vivobarefoot)
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    Vivobarefoot’s new VivoBiome shoes are in the testing phase. (Vivobarefoot)
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    Vivobarefoot scans customers’ feet to make shoes that fit perfectly. (Vivobarefoot)
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    Foot scanning technology can help staff at shoe stores find the right fit for customers. (Volumental)
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    Would you try out the VivoBiome shoes? (Vivobarefoot)
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WORLDteen | Ages 11-14 | $35.88 per year

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Ever wonder what happens to your sneakers and sandals once they wear out? Some get recycled, but roughly 19 billion unwanted shoes go to a landfill each year. Shoes are often made with rubber, plastics, or even metal. That makes decomposition difficult or impossible.

Hoping to change this, a company called Vivobarefoot partnered with material science company Balena to make 3-D printed, compostable shoes. Once they’ve run their course, these shoes break down in the environment more easily. Vivobarefoot hasn’t ironed out all the wrinkles, but the company is making strides to minimize waste in the footwear industry.

Why do so many shoes get discarded? Factories in Asia manufacture about 85% of the world’s footwear, so shoes aren’t usually made for a specific person. When shoes don’t fit, many people toss them and buy new ones. Vivobarefoot scans customers’ feet to make shoes that fit properly. The company is testing 3-D printed footwear on a made-to-order basis. It won’t make more than it can sell.

According to plan, the next step is to use compostable materials for the 3-D shoes’ construction. Co-founder Asher Clark dubs this “scan-to-print-to-soil footwear.” The current model looks like a foot-shaped egg carton with holes punched in it.

Aside from being a wacky fashion statement, compostable shoes have some practical limitations. Imagine strapping a recyclable material like cardboard to your feet. The makeshift shoes would wear out quickly. Vivobarefoot faces a similar problem.

“There is a trade-off between biodegradability and durability: That is the key tension,” explains Clark. “The external factors that break down physical products are things like light, heat, and moisture.” Vivobarefoot wants its shoe to withstand those elements but break down when it’s supposed to.

The compostable prototypes are made from natural and synthetic materials, so they can’t go into the ground right away. They go first to an industrial composting facility. When they become available next year, the shoes could cost upwards of $250 per pair. (That’s not for a shoe-string budget!)

Other companies also try making earth-friendly shoes. Some experiment with cactus leather. (Don’t worry, they remove the spikes.) Still, animal leather might remain the best shoe-making material. Leather is natural, durable, and there’s plenty available as a byproduct of the meat processing industry.

Genesis 3 says God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins. He knew what He was doing—practically and symbolically. It’s good to look for new ways to solve problems, and 19 billion pairs of unused shoes is certainly a problem. The creativity at Vivobarefoot may turn out in the long run to be a wise use of His resources.

by Bekah McCallum, in Duluth, Georgia

Why? God gave humanity responsibility to care for His world. That might sound like big shoes to fill. But He is still in control. We can steward the Earth without fearing that it’s up to us to save it.

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