It’s summer, and the ritual of buying a new pair of flimsy plastic flip-flops for the beach begins again. They wear out, so you trash them, and the cycle repeats year after year.
This ‘wear them and trash them’ cycle is one of the biggest contributors to plastic waste contamination in the world.
But there’s now a fashionable ‘slide’ that breaks that cycle. You wear it and plant it. Israeli startup Balena has developed what it describes as the world’s first fully compostable plastic fashion product.
When the slides reach the end of their life, they’re planted in a composter, and within six months, they decompose completely, leaving only a green legacy behind.
Conventional plastics can take hundreds of years to break down, and even then, their chemical makeup is toxic to the earth.
But Balena has developed BioCir, a pioneering plastic that maintains its shape and use like conventional plastic.
It’s only when it’s exposed to the specific bacteria and conditions of a compost facility, that the breakdown is triggered – so ethical consumers don’t need to worry about the slides disappearing on their feet.
Balena released their first 1,000 pairs of men’s and women’s BioCir slides – with a cinnamon scent – in Tel Aviv, its hometown, together with designated take-back spots for when they wear out.
Owners return the slides to be shredded, then planted back into the ground for full biodegradation at a local industrial compost facility, instead of tossing them into the garbage to be landfilled.
“When we look at the future of sustainability, it is clear that recycling alone is not solving the problem, the direction needs to turn towards a circular economy model,” David Roubach, CEO of Balena tells NoCamels.
“The world’s addiction to fast fashion has generated an estimate of 92 million tons of textile waste each year and just 12 per cent of the material used for clothing is recycled.”
So Balena started in reverse, aiming to solve the problem of a product’s end of life, and working back from there.
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“We’ve turned to the Earth’s natural cycles for answers,” says Roubach. “We need to transition from traditional mechanical recycling, where we melt the product and try to make another product, to a method called biological recycling.
“This renewable concept draws on the example of plants and trees. Nature eventually decomposes and returns to its starting state to begin the cycle again. This phenomenon is the vision for Balena.”
They’ve achieved this ‘Benjamin Button’ effect by using a combination of naturally occurring
ingredients bonded by a plastic that they say is fully compostable.
The fully bio-circular plastic can be made conventionally (a process known as injection molding) or by using 3-D printing. The non-toxic material can also be copied and pasted on a global scale, for other companies looking to reduce their ecological footprint.
Society is shifting from an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality, and opening its eyes to the
effects of fast fashion. Consumers now want to know where their products come from – and where they’ll end up.
Companies that claim to be sustainably-focused tend to be small-scale boutiques. But Balena has bigger ambitions and sees the slides as a proof of concept. From there it can expand to other products.
“Our aim goes beyond being just another niche or one-time project,” says Roubach, who majored in fashion and sustainability in Milan, Italy.
“With an affordable and scalable proof of concept, we are hoping the compostable materials that enabled the BioCir slide will eventually replace the polluting plastic in the fashion industry.
“In the beginning it was a challenge figuring out our idea, being a minority player in the high-tech world of Israeli startups,” says Roubach.
Despite the challenges, Balena was able to tap into the ‘green’ potential of the Startup Nation and develop sustainable solutions, leaving a lasting impact on the fashion industry and helping pave the way for a greener future.
“Now, climate tech and sustainable startups are gaining momentum, which means something is changing. Israel is aligning its focus in the right direction, and I am proud to be a part of that.”