Quantcast

How These Shoes Are Helping Clean Up This Lake

Popular
Vivobarefoot / Oregon State University

By Joe McCarthy

As the third largest lake in China, Lake Taihu is meant to provide water for more than 30 million people.

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

Bill Bader, owner of Bader Farms, and his wife Denise pose in front of the Rush Hudson Limbaugh Sr. United States Courthouse in Cape Girardeau, Missouri on Jan. 27, 2020. Johnathan Hettinger / Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

A jury in Missouri awarded a farmer $265 million in a lawsuit that claimed Bayer and BASF's weedkiller destroyed his peach orchard, as Reuters reported.

Read More
Earthjustice says Louisiana has violated the Clean Water Act and given Formosa Plastics Group the "greenlight to double toxic air pollution in St. James" (seen above). Louisiana Bucket Brigade

By Jessica Corbett

A coalition of local and national groups on Friday launched a legal challenge to a Louisiana state agency's decision to approve air permits for a $9.4 billion petrochemical complex that Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group plans to build in the region nationally known as "Cancer Alley."

Read More
Sponsored
Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Bob Wick / BLM / onEarth

By Jeff Turrentine

Well, he told us he would do it. And now he's actually doing it — or at least trying to. Late last week, President Trump, via the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management, announced that he was formalizing his plan to develop lands that once belonged within the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in southern Utah. The former is a stunningly beautiful, ecologically fragile landscape that has played a crucial role in Native American culture in the Southwest for thousands of years; the latter, just as beautiful, is one of the richest and most important paleontological sites in North America.

Read More
Smoke pours from the exhaust pipes on a truck on Nov. 5, 2019 in Miami, Florida. According to a 2017 EPA study the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. is from the transportation sector. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Julie McNamara

First, a fact: People want clean air. And who can blame them — in the United States more than 100,000 people still die from air pollution each year.

Read More
Hundreds of thousands of green-lipped mussels (like those pictured) were found dead on a New Zealand beach. DianesPhotographicDesigns / iStock / Getty Images

Hundreds of thousands of mussels that cooked to death off the New Zealand coast are likely casualties of the climate crisis.

Read More