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Microplastic-collecting shoe soles

Image credit: https://www.canstockphoto.es/dorian2013/

Juran May 11, 2021
Shoe soles are being used for many purposes except protecting our sensitive feet from the harsh ground. Shoe soles can now track your location , activity , or can have a therapeutically beneficial design by correcting your posture. But what if it could do more not just for you, but for humanity?

Imagine the shoe sole that collects microplastics and rubber while you walk.

How would it work?
It could be made as a normal sole with "soft rubber pockets" which are made of materials that electrostatically bind microplastics and rubber. It could also be designed as a mop, by having millions of small ecologically acceptable fibers that "collect" plastic and rubber particles. It would require the user to dump the collected materials into the plastics container waste and repeat the collection.
It would help to reduce the microplastic around us by collecting it and also to reduce the amount of rubber that is "peeled" of the sole while walking.

Why would you invest in this?
If we find such a material and the concept proves to be beneficial, we could apply the same principle and put a layer of this "collecting material" on the bottom of the ships. That way, except algae and seaweed, people could remove the collected plastics and rubber from their ships' bottoms and help reducing the environmental impact of non-recyclable materials such as plastics and rubber.

What are your thoughts on this?



Creative contributions

Electrostatic attraction may not work

Samuel Bello
Samuel Bello Aug 31, 2021
I think the use of electrostatic attraction will to attract plastic objects will not work because the electrostatic force will attract everything in the environment. The electrostatic force will attract particles other than rubber so the shoe will end up collecting a heap of any small particle that the wearer steps on.
Such electrostatic charges can increase the risk of explosion from electrostatic discharge in environments with inflammable materials.

I believe the only thing that can be used to gather plastics and other wastes that are not biodegradable is a robot. The reason the proposed form of collection of plastics will not work is that plastics do not have unique physical properties that can allow them to be attracted without attracting other things too.
Juran17 days ago
Hi Samuel Bello. Thank you for your feedback. I know the shoe would collect more than just plastic and rubber particles, but due to the inert characteristics of dirt, stones, and other terrestrial materials, I think the rubber and microplastics would stick to the shoe longer. Maybe an additional solution could be to have devices similar to doormats, designed to clean your shoe and separate particles. They could be placed at the entrance of every shop or mall and could help to collect exclusively the above-mentioned materials.

I was thinking more of a weak electrostatic force, that would help rubber and microplastic to stick longer to the shoe. In that way, there would be no danger of explosion.

I agree with the robot idea, but the robots should also have some separating techniques. The difference is that the particles collected on the shoe would be separated later and the robot would do it immediately.
Samuel Bello
Samuel Bello16 days ago
Juran Electrostatic attraction happens because if a charged object is taken close to an uncharged object, the electrons in the uncharged object will move to give the area near the charged object an opposite charge. The two objects are attracted because opposite charges are built up. Since electrons move more freely in good conductors of electricity; plastics and other nonconductors of electricity will be attracted weakly compared to most of the particles on the floor.

Another challenge with an electrostatic system is that every particle that is gathered by the shoe will have a capacitive build-up that opposes the initial electrostatic force so the shoe will need a powerful source of electricity, possibly one that will not be comfortable to carry around on a shoe.
Juran15 days ago
Samuel Bello okay, yes, I understand. Maybe then we should find another way how to attract exclusively microplastics and rubber particles.

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General comments

Manel Lladó Santaeularia
Manel Lladó Santaeularia4 months ago
I love this idea! However I see a couple of problems with it:

-First of all, the electrostatic properties of the sole should have to be pretty good in order to effectively attract microplastics. If that's the case, it could be that, depending on where you walk, you attract too much stuff. Would that generate accumulations that disrupt your normal walking surface? And how often would you need to clean the soles? Would that be practical for the user?

-More importantly, if there is an electrostatic bind between the sole and the plastic, how do you remove the plastic while maintaining the properties of the sole? I imagine it would be through physical methods? Or with something that has a stronger electrostatic attraction? Can we try to develop this idea together?

About the ships, the idea is cool, but I don't know how electrostatic properties work underwater. Time to go down that rabbit hole!
Darko Savic
Darko Savic4 months ago
Manel Lladó Santaeularia If it worked, you could reverse polarity or switch off the electro-magnetism for the accumulated particles to fall off (into a dumping area). It could be automatic. When walking over a dumping area, the polarity would get switched.
Manel Lladó Santaeularia
Manel Lladó Santaeularia4 months ago
Darko Savic Would that mean that you're establishing this polarity with some sort of ongoing electrical system? If that's the case this would be very energy consuming unless you found a way to generate this energy from the walking itself.

The other problem I see with this is that different plastics have different charges [1], which is actually used to separate them. How could we account for that?


Darko Savic
Darko Savic4 months ago
Manel Lladó Santaeularia in addition to what you said above, even if this worked, it would clean the surfaces only where people walk. All other surfaces would continue to be contaminated.

The effort/cost to scale this solution so that it makes a meaningful contribution might be better spent in coming up with large systems that scrub the microplastics out of rivers. It would yield a lot more material with a lot less infrastructure.
Spook Louw
Spook Louw4 months ago
Darko Savic I also think this is a really cool idea, but I agree that we should perhaps look at something other than shoes. Apart from Darko's point of limiting the cleanup to where people walk, I can imagine that it could become uncomfortable and unpractical to walk on what will essentially become a pile of rubbish.

The idea is very cool though, perhaps nets/bags could be charged in this way to collect more debris in the rivers?