In an attempt to close the loop on production, Adidas has invented a shoe made from biodegradable artificial spider silk that will melt away when you're done with them.
Adidas has invented a running shoe that will decompose in the sink. Once you’ve worn it out (the company recommends two years of use), you can immerse the shoes in water, add a digestion enzyme called proteinase, and let it work for 36 hours. It will cause the protein-based yarn to break down, and you’ll be able to drain the liquefied shoes down the sink – everything except the foam sole, which will still require disposal.
It sounds surreal, but the technology is straightforward. The upper is made from a synthetic biopolymer fiber called Biosteel, manufactured by a German company called AMSilk whose goal was to recreate spider silk. Wired describes the manufacturing process (at least, what we know of it, since AMSilk does not divulge details):
“AMSilk creates that Biosteel textile by fermenting genetically modified bacteria. [Gizmodo reports that the bacteria is E.coli.] That process creates a powder substrate, which AMSilk then spins into its Biosteel yarn. All of this happens in a lab, and, according to Adidas, uses a fraction of the electricity and fossil fuels that plastics take to produce.”
Adidas says the shoes are 15 percent lighter than comparable running shoes, while remaining strong and durable. They are non-allergenic and vegan. And, if you’re wondering, they will not melt on your feet in the rain because the proteinase enzyme is required for biodegradation.
The foam sole is a concern, as it would currently go to landfill. A spokesperson for Adidas told the Huffington Post that if the shoes go into production, a different and more sustainable sole “might be taken into consideration.” Could a recycled rubber sole be used, or could foam soles be sent back to for reuse? After all, James Carnes, VP of strategy creation at Adidas, has talked about “moving beyond closed loop and into an infinite loop – or even no loop at all.”
The Futurecraft Biofabric shoe is a very interesting idea, but I’d want to know more about the safety of the liquid-shoe form after it’s drained down the sink. Does the synthetic fabric actually melt completely, or does it break down into microscopic pieces that are small enough to drain away? What effect does that have in our water supply? Just because something ‘breaks down’, changes form, or disappears from view does not mean it goes away. Nor does facilitating disposal really mean 'closed-loop production.'
Nevertheless, it’s heartening to see a company like Adidas, the majority of whose products are sourced from plastic polymers, to be taking a product's end-of-life into consideration, a direction in which both industry and consumers must go, sooner rather than later.