For Yvan Kate, plastic waste is a personal issue.
Hailing from Togo in West Africa, the undergraduate in business at Warner Pacific University has designed an athletic shoe, which he calls Boundless Motion, that he hopes will elevate his community in his native home. And by using discarded plastic bottles, he hopes his invention, which he will present at the Invent Oregon Collegiate Challenge in June, will move the needle on the climate crisis in the process.
The idea is simple: Kate (pronounced kah-tay) will break down plastic waste into spoolable plastic fibers that can be used in a 3D printer. Empowered with shoe designs that Kate created, the 3D printer will use the plastic filaments to create Kate’s shoes.
Emigrating from Togo to the United States eight years ago, Kate suggests that Boundless Motion is a project that will connect the resources of the United States to people who need them and accomplish a sustainable goal along the way.
“This project I'm launching is about turning plastic waste into a fashionable statement, fashionable wearing shoes,” Kate said. “I think about it every time, back home, we used to play soccer barefooted and I had bruises on my side, my feet. That's crazy. And so and I always wanted to connect the resources between underdeveloped countries such as mine and developed countries like the United States”
Kate’s passion for sustainability came from his first job in the United States, a position removing invasive species with Portland Parks and Recreation. “What we do is we go around removing plastic from beaches. We remove invasive species such as ivy,” Kate said. “And so I've always had connection with Portland Parks and always volunteer and always being there whenever they needed me. And so when that was my very first job in the United States and that inspiration really came from there.”
To bring his idea to life, Kate will have to overcome key challenges connected with the material Boundless Motion will work with, PLA and other plastic commonly used for water bottles. “PLA is not always comfortable under the feet, which is why I want to utilize the plastic bottle for the sole of the shoes,” Kate said. “I want it to be unique in a way where it's adaptable.”
To make the shoe more comfortable, Kate envisions using a lightweight sole made out of plastic bottles that forms beneath the foot like an airless tire. “The soul of the shoe will be using light and particle material,” Kate said. “That is just a fancy way of saying that there will be airflow going through and out of the sole of the shoes.”
To add even more comfort, Kate designed the upper sole of the shoe out of 3D netting to take advantage of 3D printing technology—a choice that would also allow the shoe to fit to the shape of the wearer’s foot.
By utilizing plastic waste, Boundless Motion could take an important step on a global problem. “Right now, experts say that in 30 years there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, and thinking about that is kind of scary to me” Kate said.
In Togo, fishing is a major economic driver. Where plastic waste washes up onshore, the problem demands an urgent solution for the vitality of Kate’s community.
“It was by luck that I'm even here now. It was a lottery ticket,” Kate said. “And out of all the survivors that wanted this chance, I was the one that was granted his chance. And I can never take that for granted.”