My Shoes are Made out of Wheat
I’m sitting at a bar in Hong Kong doing some people watching and reading through a brochure that is forcing me to look at peoples shoes.
About a year ago, we met with a small company that wanted to work with us on some biodegradable products. They were relatively new, like us, and so passionate about the environment that it made us take stock of our own motivation. These guys wanted to leave a legacy much different than a lot of companies. They truly wanted to make the world not only better, but cleaner.
It seems futile when you read article after article about humans destroying the planet with garbage and then you meet people like this and it almost restores some hope that we can get there. So here we are, a year later and I am reading through their brochure. Shoes made from the stems of wheat stalks? And its cheap?
See, the problem with most plastics and foams made with plant based materials is the cost. Everyone thinks ‘yes lets make all plastic from corn’, but the realities of the industry is that it is 150% more expensive. Plastic from fossil fuel is cheap. Oil is cheap and corn isn’t. But the left over material from harvesting wheat, rice or other crops is….free. Hell, some companies pay to have it taken away!
We need companies like this and we need to start thinking about the whole sustainability chain. We are all guilty of making assumptions based on watching one documentary or listening to one point of view. A lot of plastic waste articles and documentaries that show the problem, don’t focus on a solution. And I think it is because they don’t have one.
I was on a facebook thread the other day, reading comments on an article talking about the amount of plastic water bottles that get thrown out. These two ladies were going back and forth, throwing out their opinions which are similar to most people who see the problem and don’t really know the answer. They were saying ‘bring back the glass bottle’ and other people chimed in with the reasons glass won’t replace plastic. As people kept debunking their solutions, one lady says ‘does ANYONE have a solution to this problem’? Thats when I piped in and shared my thoughts. I said there is no one solution. Plastic is here to stay and rightfully so. It is a great invention and without it we wouldn’t last very long as a species. Ask your cardiologist.
The solution involves a few things happening. There needs to be social change, infrastructure improvement on waste and recycling, a biochemistry solution (BDP), government and business involvement and environmental initiatives.
The social solution starts by admitting some things that you may not want to admit. Recycling needs to happen for certain materials like PET, PP, HDPE and some PS materials… all other plastics, if they can not be reused, need to be landfilled. That is just a fact, like it or not. Recycling is a hard business, mainly because plastic is pretty much worthless. And not all plastic is recyclable. And countries like China start banning recycled plastic, putting even more pressure on the industry. Glass, metal and paper should always be recycled. Paper emits 300% more CO2 in production than plastic, so it is best recycled and it can be recycled over and over, just like metal. We also need to motivate people to not litter and to actually recycle the materials, like water bottles, that are recyclable. This one is almost impossible because most of the ocean waste is coming from Asia and India and the infrastructure is not in place to recycle like it is in the West. So this brings us to the chemistry solution, one of the main focuses of our business.
Like it or not, plastic goes to landfill. 79% of all plastic ever created is sitting in a landfill right now. And wouldn’t it be better that plastic was naturally biodegrading in landfills, creating energy? You can read my last blog post for more info on this, but this should be part of the agenda. Landfills are not as bad as you think. Most landfills are modern and they contain all of the materials within them, by way of a thick membrane separating the trash from the soil. 85% of U.S. landfills capture the toxic methane for energy. GM headquarters are powered by landfill gas and it burns clean and its free energy! South Korea also captures landfill gas to fuel city buses. With innovations like BDP, which allow plastic to naturally decompose in landfill, we can literally create energy from worthless plastic.
How about those shoes? Well, since plant based materials are usually weaker than petroleum based plastics, the shoes are blended with part plant ‘waste’ material and part EVA (the foam material used to make shoes). What is really interesting about this company is that they can make the WHOLE shoe with this material. The outer skin, the sole of the shoe and the foam parts. Now we add BDP and these shoes will biodegrade naturally in landfill. Since shoes are not recyclable, this is the most eco friendly solution for products like these. I know what you’re thinking..’they have to be expensive’. Well, they aren’t. I said these guys were environmentalists and true environmentalists put their passion before profits. We all could learn from people like this.
So we will do our best to partner with companies like this and to give some hope to the people that are wondering if there is any solution. We believe we are part of the solution and so do the people that work with us. And if we continue to bring amazing products to market, like a wheat shoe, imagine whats next? Maybe your next pair of running shoes will be made from Breakdown Earth. (Thats what we call it)