US sustainable footwear company OESH Shoes has developed a 100% recyclable shoe sole using 3D printing and thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) materials by Huntsman Textile Effects.

OESH Shoes was founded in 2011 by Casey Kerrigan, a researcher who studied the effects of footwear on health. She discovered that many common features of shoes can adversely affect posture and joints. She subsequently created OESH to translate her research findings into the design of healthy shoes.

Keen to offer environmentally-conscious customers a fully recyclable shoe, Kerrigan worked with Huntsman to evaluate thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) materials and determine whether it could be shredded at the end of the shoe's life cycle and recycled for re-use.

OESH produced a series of soles using its 3D printing technique, which creates parts directly from pellets. The soles were then recycled into pellets and put back into the 3D manufacturing process. The next step was to test the new recycled sole against those made from virgin materials. Results showed that the recycled sole had the same functionality as the original sole – with no drop-in performance properties.

"At OESH Shoes we are committed to making shoes that are not only the healthiest shoes on the planet, but also the healthiest shoes for the planet," says Kerrigan. "We are constantly innovating and developing new technologies and manufacturing processes that minimise carbon emissions, toxins and waste. We are excited about our latest discovery – that using Huntsman's TPU elastomers, OESH's signature soles are now not only 100% healthy, but 100% recyclable."

Jason Smith, global innovation project manager at Huntsman, adds: "As a business, we are committed to helping our customers meet their sustainability ambitions – whether that's delivering products that require less energy to process or supplying materials that can be recycled back into new items at the end of their life. We are pleased to have worked with the team at OESH Shoes – giving them the means to create a fully recyclable shoe, which can have a positive impact on the environment, as well as on the wearer's health."