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Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Foam might be the future of footwear fashion. Two environmental experts at UF are optimistic about a shoe design that would be made from biodegradable, or recyclable foam, materials.

UNifold, a shoe designed by 23-year-old Horatio Yuxin Han, emerged from a challenge by his Pratt Institute professor to create a printable footwear design, according an article from The Daily Beast.

Han’s design is printed on one piece of eco-friendly foam material, cut out and folded into either a closed-toed flat or a sandal, according to the story.

The shoe is still in a prototype stage, but companies have shown interest in buying the experimental design.

Dale Morris, UF recycling and solid waste coordinator, said its health benefit the shoes could bring is the most important feature.

While he said the health benefits are the priority for the potential Third World users, the eco-friendly aspect can benefit the rest of the world.

“As a society, we all look to prevent anything that’s going to have an environmental impact,” he said. “It’s really a win-win situation.”

It has not been determined if the shoe will be recyclable or biodegradable because a material for production has not yet been chosen.

Morris said the two would yield different results if they were to hit the market. A 100-percent recyclable shoe would only be effective if the wearers have a way to collect the shoes and recycle them.

If they were biodegradable, the shoes could potentially break down naturally without the need for an entire recycling system.

Matt Williams, director of the UF Office of Sustainability, said the effectiveness of a biodegradable shoe depends on what it would break down into.

If the users have a way to repeatedly recycle the shoes, then using a recyclable material might be the best solution, he said.

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Seaton Tarrant, a UF political science doctoral student said it’s difficult to determine concrete rules on what sustainability means.

“You have to look at it as part of a bigger system.”

Tarrant said recyclable shoes would thrive more in a consumer culture, like the U.S., where people are used to throwing away shoes. He said he questions if recyclable shoes are appropriate for other cultures.

“You want to build shoes that are as durable and lasting as they can be,” he said. “Why not get one pair that will last you 40 years?”

Williams said more than the possible environmental effects, the shoes ultimately provide a way to bring footwear manufacturing back into the U.S.

According to the article, making the shoes would not require heavy machinery and only needs a single sheet of foam rubber to create, so there is less need to outsource the manufacturing. Instead, manufacturing can be done in the U.S.

“There is a real value in terms of job creation,” Williams said.

A version of this story ran on page 10 on 10/3/2013 under the headline "Shoe design gives new life back to old materials"

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