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By Joe McCarthy
But for more than two decades, the lake has been known less for water and more for algae. That's because weak regulations have allowed billions of tons of wastewater, animal waste and garbage to flow unimpeded into the water.
This pollution has caused massive explosions of algae that choke out other marine life and make the water hard to filter and drink.
In 2007, nearly one-third of the lake was covered in blue-green algae and the government suspended water collection from the lake, put a cap on how much bottled water could cost because prices began escalating out of control, and shut down factories surrounding the lake.
But the problem persisted.
Now, after many years of botched clean-up efforts and failed attempts to hold polluters accountable, a company claims to have found a way to keep the algae in check.
And now the lake is providing people with not just water, but also shoes.
A company called Bloom has created a mobile platform that sucks algae from the lake, purifies the water, returns it to the lake, and transforms the algae into a tiny pellet that can be used like a plastic.
The founder of the company, Rob Falken, ultimately wants to replace plastic products, which often start as little petroleum-based pellets.
"The end goal is to remove as much of the petroleum feedstock as possible," Falken told Fast Company. "When you take a waste stream from nature—there naturally but there in such mass because of manmade inputs—we can take that feedstock, that problem, and functionalize it into usable goods that are the exact same quality, indistinguishable, from the status quo that's out there today."
The harvester uses a gentle suction and has filters that keep other marine life from getting harmed. Along with algae, it pulls nitrogen and phosphorous from the water, which makes it less likely for algae blooms to happen in the future.
Bloom water purifier / algae converter
The DIY-looking machines sit along the shore and draw from the top six inches of the water column.
Bloom has been working on Lake Taihu for two years and has removed millions of pounds of algae.
Water purified from Bloom machine in stages
Recently, a shoe company called Vivobarefoot began working with Bloom to weave the algae pellets into its signature design—the Ultra III.
Each shoe is made from algae pulled from 57 gallons of water and prevents 40 helium balloons worth of carbon from entering the atmosphere.
Right now, the shoes are only 40% algae and 60% petroleum-based, but the company hopes to improve that ratio going forward.
Bloom has made other products including foam pads for surfboards and wants to expand into as many product categories as possible.
Algae thrives in warm water with high carbon concentrations and as climate change heats up the planet via emissions, more and more lakes are having problems with algae blooms, especially in areas where industrial runoff from agriculture occurs.
For Falken, this is a chance to change the status quo.
"We've already got more algae than we'll ever need," Falken told Fast Company. "In China, Lake Taihu could produce enough algae for us to produce a pair of shoes for every man, woman and child on this planet."
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Elizabeth Pratt
- Hormel, Kellogg's, and Kroger are among the large companies now planning to offer "fake meat" products at grocery stores.
- Experts say the trend toward plant-based meats coincides with consumers' desires to eat less meat.
- However, experts urge consumers to closely check package labels as a product isn't necessarily healthy just because it's described as plant-based.
In grocery stores and fast-food outlets around the U.S., a revolution is taking place.
Many of us think of the Amazon as an untouched wilderness, but people have been thriving in these diverse environments for millennia. Due to this long history, the knowledge that Indigenous and forest communities pass between generations about plants, animals and forest ecology is incredibly rich and detailed and easily dwarfs that of any expert.
By Wesley Rahn
Plastic byproducts were found in 97 percent of blood and urine samples from 2,500 children tested between 2014 and 2017, according to a study by the German Environment Ministry and the Robert Koch Institute.
Medically reviewed by Daniel Bubnis, MS, NASM-CPT, NASE Level II-CSS
Hot yoga has become a popular exercise in recent years. It offers many of the same benefits as traditional yoga, such as stress reduction, improved strength, and flexibility.
The Trump administration has initialized the final steps to open up nearly 1.6 million acres of the protected Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to allow oil and gas drilling.