According to SmarTech Analysis in its report on “3D-Printed Footwear 2020-2030, an Analysis of the Market Potential of 3D Printing in the Footwear Industry,” the sector is expected to reach $4.2 billion in revenues by 2025. The report goes on to explain that prototyping and tooling are still thought of as main applications for AM in footwear, but that the industry’s ultimate goal is to use the technology to automate the production of footwear final parts. Material science company Balena is looking to do the same, and offer footwear brands the ability to develop shoes that are identical in look and feel to their current offerings, but with a sustainable twist. The company recently unveiled its 3D printed slides, which it says were made with a 100% biodegradable elastomer.
Balena, working “to create a circular model for consumer goods products,” has offices in both Milan and Tel Aviv, and made the 3D printed slides using its unique BioCir material, which “enables the creation of fully compostable and biodegradable consumer goods products.”
“Balena’s top priority is to continue disrupting the materials industry by innovating and developing cutting edge circular materials to replace hazardous, polluting, non-compostable, and synthetic materials currently in use across different industries,” the company says on its website.
“We believe that in the near future, all consumer good products, across diverse industries, will have clear end of life solutions, and we’re working hard to make that a reality, one industry at a time.”
BioCir is a more sustainable, flexible, and durable alternative to the plastics typically used in the extremely wasteful fashion and consumer goods industries. The proprietary material, a “combination of naturally occurring constituents binded by high molecular weight polymers and modifiers,” is supposedly the first fully moldable, biodegradable elastomer to be used as a plastic substitute in fashion. BioCir is made up of 60% bio-based content, while the remaining plastic is 100% compostable, as well as smooth and soft, and features a shore hardness between 70A-90A; when foamed, it can get as low as 40A.
The 3D printed BioCir slides were designed and manufactured in both men’s and women’s sizes in Italy, and 3D printed entirely out of BioCir. In a limited drop, the compostable yet comfortable footwear was distributed to thousands of wearers in Tel Aviv to showcase the potential of Balena’s technology.
In addition to the sandals, the company is also introducing BioCycling, a fully circular system that aids with the disposal and total biodegradation of the new BioCir slides in an industrial compost environment. Once a customer is done using the compostable slides, they can return them to one of two take-back spots in Tel Aviv. In a circularity model that Balena says can be replicated around the world, the slides are then collected for full biodegradation at a local industrial compost facility
“The manufacturing process of BioCir is highly scalable, allowing for collaborations and the implementation of BioCir across diverse industries,” the Balena website states.
BioCir material can be used in injection molding just as easily as extrusion 3D printing, and can be replicated at scale, which decreases a barrier to entry for manufacturers. The company says that the composition of its sustainable material makes it to the perfect alternative choice for the toxic shoe materials we currently see that pollute the earth. Plus, BioCir Slides are vegan, cruelty-free, and durable, as well as being made with natural dyes, such as cinnamon; they’re even packaged in 100% recyclable paper boxes.
“The global fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters. At Balena, our goal is to help turn this around. We’re doing this by creating our own viable biodegradable plastic alternatives and fully circular systems that can be easily scaled and copied and pasted across the globe,” said David Roubach, Founder and CEO of Balena.
“We hope our BioCir footwear shows the world that there is a real alternative: Fashion can be fabulous, functional and Earth-friendly. We’re proud to be the company opening the door for any fashion brand to start stepping into a more circular future.”
We’ve seen others working to create more sustainable shoes that are made of recycled materials and can be composted, like Balena is doing now, and it’s always cheering to see the hard work some companies put in to make the world a better place. We only have one, after all.
Images courtesy of Balena.
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