A Recyclable Wetsuit Is In The Works
We’ve seen natural rubber, eco-friendly suits, but this is the first we’ve seen of a truly recyclable second skin.
Surfers aren’t large contributors to the environmental issues the world is facing right now—as long as you ignore the absurd number of flights we rack up. Yes the production of suits, boards, and a number of other products we use rely on unsustainable practices, but the impact of surfing and the equipment we need is minuscule compared to other activities we partake in each and every day.
This however doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye entirely to the products we use and the pollution we create as surfers. If we were going to be hard on ourselves, wetsuits, for the average surfer, would be one of the first places to look. Brands such as Patagonia have come out with neoprene-free suits that sport natural rubbers that don’t rely on petrochemical processes, but up to this point no suit producer has come up with a skin which can be recycled; a good suit should last at least a season or two and might even be able to be passed off to your weekend-warrior cousin before eternal retirement, but once its days are over that suit is going straight to landfill, or just sitting, stinking in your garage for eternity.
Finisterre, a surf company which originated in the UK is on the path to changing this—they’re producing prototype recyclable wetsuits. The reason neoprene wetsuits cannot be recycled is the molecules in the neoprene are ‘thermoset’, which in layman terms means they cannot be changed or altered, meaning they’ll never be anything but neoprene. You can cut off a few shreds and make a pencil case, wrist for a stubbie holder, or cut it down to a springy, but a standard neoprene suit is not recyclable in the standard sense—that means it can’t go in the yellow bin.
Details on the actual materials at this stage are sparse, but in a conversation with Reuters, Jenny Banks, a material scientist turned wetsuit designer after being hired by Finisterre, spoke about the suit. “We’ve been trying to find other ways to keep the wetsuit performing and staying strong and having reinforcement but actually eliminating the (nonrecyclable) fabrics.”
Tom Kay, Finisterre’s founder recently tested the suit off Cornwall in the UK. He said the suit was warmer than his normal suit but added it’ll need a few tweaks for it to be market ready. At this stage there’s no date or plans for a market release, but Kay insists he wants the price to be in line with the rest of the market—there’s no point pushing sustainable products if no one can afford to buy them.
Kay also added that they hope to make the materials they’re testing ‘open source’, meaning any brands interested can use this technology in the industry; from a purely biz perspective that’s probably a bad idea, but from an environmental one—an ethos Finisterre tries to embody—it’s a good one. And because the suit is still a number of prototypes, fuck ups, and fixes away from being available, Finisterre have teamed up with Renew ELP and created a wetty buyback program where old and retired suits can be broken down into ‘non-virgin crude oil’ which can be recreated into other plastic products; not an ideal solution, but one better than your old second skin slowly degrading in landfill.
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