Algae-based flip-flops
Algae-based flip-flops developed at UC San Diego.

Scientists at UC San Diego have devised a new way for sun seekers to care for the environment when they hit the beach — biodegradable flip-flops made from algae.

Working in partnership with La Jolla start-up company Algenesis Materials, researchers have spent years working to produce a solid foam-like material out of oil extracted from algae to make the green beach sandals.

The team succeeded in formulating polyurethane foams made from algae oil to meet commercial specifications for the foot-bed of flip-flops. The results of their work are published in Bioresource Technology Reports and describe the team’s successful development of these sustainable, consumer-ready and biodegradable materials.

“The paper shows that we have commercial-quality foams that biodegrade in the natural environment,” said Professor Stephen Mayfield. “After hundreds of formulations, we finally achieved one that met commercial specifications. These foams are 52 percent biocontent—eventually we’ll get to 100 percent.”

Mayfield and his team hope the sustainable footwear, which is due to be launched through a major flip-flop brand next year, will cut the amount of plastic ending up in oceans and landfill sites.

“There are over one billion flip-flops made in the world every year and are actually a major plastic pollution in the oceans,” said Mayfield.

Mayfield, director at the California Center for Algae Biotechnology, and associate director Michael Burkart co-led the project with graduate student Natasha Gunawan and Marissa Tessman, a research scientist at Algenesis Materials.

Plastic pollution in the oceans is expected to triple by 2040, according to a study by the International Solid Waste Association.

“People are … starting to demand products that can address what has become an environmental disaster,” said Tom Cooke, president of Algenesis Materials.

— From Staff and Wire Reports

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.