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This Bio-Knit Shoe Will Be as Easy to Recycle as Plastic Bottles

A new shoe based on textile biomimicry promises easy recycling and soft, robust textures with a single heat-treated material and 3D printers.

Designer Amno Liao from the Royal College of Art in London has created the Bio-Knit shoe, which is knitted on a 3-D knitting machine and then treated to harden its various parts. Heat is used to change the stiffness of the threads, so a semi-rigid heel and sock-like textures are produced from the same material. Creating a shoe without composites, as most footwear contains, will dramatically reduce recycling costs.

The Bio-Knit shoe will not require an energy-intensive recycling process like that required for multi-material products. According to Liao, the Bio-Knit will also help conserve natural resources, enhance the sustainability of the landfill, and reduce pollution and costs associated with recycling.

"Nature uses only a few polymers for everything in our living environment, because it changes the material's identity, structures and textures," Liao told De Zeen magazine. "This multi-functional, single material can efficiently boost our recycling industry without relying on a separation process.”

Liao's project was presented at this year's Show RCA 2015 graduate exhibition in London earlier this summer, along with a series of sustainability-oriented product designs.

Knitting technology is also being used by major brands Nike and adidas. Nike’s Flyknit is being use to create running trainers and basketball shoes, while Adidas claims its soccer cleat was the first shoe with a top knitted entirely from yarn.

The Bio-Knit contributes to the innovation occurring across the shoe industry, from Lyf’s glueless shoes made to order on location with 3D printers and Project Piola’s sneakers made with sustainably harvested Peruvian rubber and cotton; to Marks & Spencer’s Footglove Earth collection, which features shoes whose components are sourced sustainably or through the use of recycled, post-consumer waste; and soleRebels, which is creating competitive jobs in Ethiopia with the production of shoes made of materials such as recycled tires, organic cotton, jute and hemp, and handmade through a low-tech, zero-carbon production process.

Liao’s bio-knit shoe is also the latest in a string of sustainable product innovations coming from graduate design programs and young entrepreneurs around the world: German design students Sarah Mautsch and Aaron Abentheuer recently developed a conceptual prototype for a 3D countertop meat printer; UCSD undergraduates helped design the first algae-based surfboard; French startup Jarre recently created a set of containers to store and preserve produce more sustainably in households; and a team of Brazilian students recently designed a simpler, easily recyclable alternative to the traditional milk carton.

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