ART E.C.O | A LOOK AT ECO WETSUIT DESIGN
ART E.C.O | A LOOK AT ECO WETSUIT DESIGN
By Leo Hillary
As surfers we have a natural affinity for the environment as well as a vested interest in improving it.
At the same time, some of the essential parts of a surfing life do have a significant ecological impact in their production and disposal. But there's an increasing awareness of this and effort being made to reduce this in both surfboards and wetsuits.
Here at mesurf we've taken a look at the wetsuit brands that are minimising their impact on the environment, what they're doing and where they're heading to make the world a better place.
WHAT'S THE CURRENT IMPACT?
The ultimate environmental impact of wetsuits is a very hard one to specify, with many factors to consider, but we can get an idea by looking at the basics.
First of all, the primary material of wetsuits is neoprene. Neoprene is a Polychloroprene, traditionally extracted from oil. Of course no one needs another lecture on the evils of petroleum and humankind’s dependence on it.
Secondly is the manufacturing process, which requires a heavy use of toxic adhesives for lamination. These solvents evaporate during manufacturing, both polluting the environment and creating a health and safety risk to workers.
Then of course there's also the question of where do all the old wetties go to die?
SO WHO'S DOING WHAT?
Increasingly, we are seeing an environmental push from wetsuit manufacturers, from the big name brands to the smaller players and also companies specifically founded on an environmental vision.
Patagonia’s mission statement sums up what they’re about: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis”.
To this end, Patagonia has lessened the environmental impact of their wetsuits in a number of ways. By using recycled polyester and chlorine-free wool in the lining they can go thinner on the neoprene without sacrificing warmth. Less neoprene equals less eco impact.
Another interesting development is the source of the raw material itself. An increasing number of companies (including Patagonia, West and Matuse among others) are using limestone as the source for the neoprene. This of course takes away the crude oil factor but Patagonia acknowledges that there is still an impact from the limestone through mining, diesel fuel pollution, and high-energy usage to process it.
Rip Curl has the environment as one of its 5 core company values. It has seen some major advancement in wetsuit components and in particular with using non-solvent glues in the lamination process, resulting in a major reduction of chemicals polluting the air.
On the recycling front, Rip Curl’s ‘Project Resurrection’ sees returned wetties and off-cut neoprene recycled into other items such as travel bags and shoe soles.
Billabong, ably assisted by Dave Rastovich, has an ECO range for which the production process consumes 80% less energy and produces 80% less carbon dioxide emissions than a regular suit.
Wetsuit innovators Body Glove also has an increasing range of Eco products made from a combination of renewable, recycled, sustainable and/or organic materials.
Wetsuit pioneers O’Neill have a wetsuit made from recycled plastic bottles, the Psycho Pro Chest Zip, but note, “to be truly environmentally conscious is an ethos that needs to be part of every aspect of your business, not just marketing eco products to consumers thinking you are doing your bit!”
SO WHAT'S THE TRADE OFF?
In a perfect world you would think that all suits would be as ECO friendly as possible but of course there has to be a trade off somewhere be it in price, durability or quality.
On the recycling front the trade off is flexibility. “There is no recycled neoprene to date that has the stretch that we see in wetsuits today”, say Rip Curl.
HOW FAR CAN AN ECO WETSUIT GO?
Everyone we have spoken to has been stoked at the increasing environmental consideration in wetsuits but similarly everyone agrees that we are not where we need to be yet.
“We do everything we can to make [a wetsuit] eco without sacrificing our own exceptionally high standards of quality and function. It’s a fine line to get the best on all fronts but there is always room to close the gap.” – Patagonia
“In time it is likely that we will see more significant advancements in Eco wetsuits that will provide the performance requirements of surfers and meet our environmental needs.” – Rip Curl
We asked Patagonia how far they think they can take the E.C.O wetsuit design...
“Lets hope all the way! I mean it would cool if you could make them out of seaweed and eat them when they are worn out, but realistically we will keep striving to close the loop on production and recycling.” – Patagonia
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
So it's a journey that we are all on and one that we should all ultimately see the benefit of. But what can we as individuals do?
Rip Curl says be aware and recycle; “The key for surfers is to understand the information available to make educated decisions in their purchasing process. We strongly encourage old suits be recycled and donated to surfing organizations or even family friends that are just starting to surf.”
Xcel thinks we should get creative, “Instead of throwing your old wetsuit away….geez, make mouse pads, stubby coolers, donate to your local repair shop if it still has usable rubber so they can use your suit to repair others.”
Or as Patagonia suggest; “Get back to nature and appreciate it, you are a part of it. Support good ideals and good products, buy quality not quantity, surf well and be cool. It’s all going to be ok! Rip on.”
It's encouraging to see the industry putting in the time and research to look at ecological ways of producing a wetsuit that doesn't hinder ones surfing performance. While we are still a long way from creating a 100% eco wetsuit, we believe that every little bit counts. So next time you're up for a new wetsuit make sure that you look into the eco options, and at the same time, before you throw your old neoprene out, why not put it to good use. Either hand down to a mate, or get in touch with Rip Curl to see where you can send it to be resurrected.
Captain Planet is frothin'!
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