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Source: Massey University

The Voronoi Runners.

Samantha Hughes’ Clean Catch design.

Lisa Newman’s SWITCH design.

A recent Massey University graduate has once again come out on top in the annual national James Dyson awards with an innovative design for fully biodegradable running shoes.

Rik Olthuis, who graduated with a Bachelor of Design with Honours this year, designed the Voronoi Runners as a response to the amount of footwear going to landfills. Most shoes will end up in landfill with the average pair taking more than 50 years to fully decompose, leading footwear to represent 1.4 per cent of global climate impacts.

“Currently, footwear materials focus on performance, which is important, especially in runners. However, what isn’t being considered is what happens to the product once it’s no longer of use. The use of adhesives prevents the separation and treatment of materials at the end of the product’s lifecycle. I was inspired to design a sneaker using only biodegradable materials with no adhesives – leading the future of sustainable footwear,” Mr Olthuis says.

The two runners-up are also Massey graduates: Lisa Newman with her design SWITCH, a portable hand tool to help maintain clean cattle tails, and Samantha Hughes, with her design Clean Catch, a paediatric urine sample collection device.

Lisa Newman’s SWITCH design was inspired by her farming background, leading her to want to improve the health and well-being of cattle within the dairy industry. “Recent laws banning [tail] docking created a gap in the market for a purpose-built tool to trim the switch of the tail. SWITCH challenges the traditional tools used for docking and trimming to help farmers transition from docking to trimming. It is a lightweight, portable tool with circular clipper heads to mimic the shape of the tail, providing a practical purpose-built tool for the farmer,” she says.

Samantha Hughes’ Clean Catch aims to provide a reliable and accurate method for collecting a sterile sample of urine from paediatric patients between 6 and 24 months old, as current methods involve either catheterizing the baby which can be traumatic for both parent and child, or the parent collecting a sterile ‘mid-stream’ sample, which results in contaminated samples, misdiagnosis and unnecessary antibiotics being prescribed.

Massey graduates have won the national James Dyson Award for the past six years in a row, and have won 16 times in 19 years, which Industrial Design Subject Director Lyn Garrett says is a testament to the quality of the industrial design programme.

“Rik’s project, which integrates digital manufacturing with hands-on, physical experimentation with materials, is daring, subtle, and highly innovative. It exemplifies the rich, deep understanding of industrial design students develop developed in our long-standing Industrial Design programme at Massey University’s School of Design.”

The awards were judged by Dr Michelle Dickinson, Engineer Sina Cotter Tait and founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Sustainable Business Network, Rachel Brown ONZM, who said of the winning design, “The fashion industry is hugely wasteful and has a long way to go in terms of its approach to sustainability. Therefore, I was really impressed by the holistic approach taken and the way Rik had thought about the full life cycle from its material choice and eliminating nasty adhesives, to production via 3D printing and then thinking through what happens to these shoes at the end of life. I would love for my sports mad son to be able to purchase a training shoe like this.”

Dr Michelle Dickinson added: “I really like the biomimetic approach Rik has taken with the idea to use gelatine in the foam as just one example of this. Allbirds has proven that there is a growing market for sustainability focussed product innovation so this could be the perfect time for this product.”

Mr Olthuis will receive $3500 to go towards his project, helping to test the strength and form of a biodegradable filament. All three finalists will move on to the international stage where a Top 20 will be selected by a panel of Dyson Engineers.

The International Winner and Sustainability Winner will be handpicked by Sir James Dyson, with the International Winner receiving NZ $55,000 and NZ $9500 for their university, and the Sustainability Winner receiving NZ $55000 and announced on 19 November 2020.