There's a new material created by a husband and wife team, called Cosyflex, that makes it possible to 3D print a new pair of underwear in just three seconds. (That's approximately 10 million pairs per printer per year.)
Quick printing of a woven fabric is unique, and may inspire 3D printer owners. First underwear, and then...well, entire outfits. Victoria's Secret might want to make their sexy lingerie with the CosyFlex material, because printing your own personalized underwear at the store means you'd get exactly what you want at the right size.
Lots of materials are bidoegradable, including cotton, which is currently what a lot of underwear (generally fortified with a bit of plasticky Lycra) is made from, and Cosyflex includes cotton. But 'biodegradable' is a misleading term.
Cosyflex products may have an environmentally-friendly aspect because the 3D printing allows the manufacturer to avoid cutting-floor waste. However, using the term 'biodegradable' hints at a level of green that Cosyflex doesn't have.
In fact, that term obscures our throwaway-and-forget-about-it mentality.
"We're so obsessed with avoiding landfills that we've forgotten the waste hierarchy of reduce first, reuse, recycle," said Lauren Norris, master recycler at the Portland Office of Sustainability. "It would take a life-cycle analysis to truly determine the sustainability of a 'biodegradable' underwear."
But, Norris continued, while we all need underwear, if we think about the waste hierarchy - reduce, reuse, recycle - single-use underwear is about as green as single use 'eco' diapers. In other words, not very sustainable.
"Of course it's always a good idea to try to find a market [for a used material] rather than use virgin materials," Norris said. "But unless you turn something old into something new we're not really doing what we hope to."
The creators of CosyFlex plan to launch a single-use panty made from the material in 2014. They designed CosyFlex originally for women with heavy menstrual periods, so their product is more of a period panty than candy underwear, and it's meant to be used just once and then disposed of...in the garbage. Likely it will be inside of some type of plastic bag, which takes eons to 'biodegrade'.
Norris said she'd rather have a disposable diaper or so-called biodegradable panty in the landfill, where it could be properly managed as what it really is...waste.
(The 'treehugger' panties feature in the picture above are what you'll see if you Google biodegradable panties.)