The sport of surfing goes hand in hand with a connection, love, and respect of the environment. Beach cleans, the shift towards coral-friendly sunscreens and cutting down on plastic usage are just a few of the many actions adopted by surfers and beach-goers around the world to be more eco-friendly. With that in mind, many surf companies and lifestyle brands are making efforts to move away from environmentally harmful processes and materials that make their way into our oceans. First on the agenda: to create a new generation of eco-friendly wetsuits for the world.
The Problem with Neoprene Wetsuits
Hugh Bradner invented the modern wetsuit in 1952, these later evolved into the ones we are familiar with today – largely due to surf-pioneer Jack O’Neill. Unfortunately, the core ingredient in modern wetsuits is neoprene foam – a synthetic rubber that is derived from petroleum. Neoprene, first developed in 1930 by DuPont is flexible and in foam form, has good insulation qualities but is completely non-renewable and can contribute to long-term ill-effects on the earth including carbon emissions and oil drilling operations during the manufacturing process. With limited options to recycle or reuse used wetsuits, most end up in the landfill, making neoprene wetsuits not just an issue during the manufacturing process but in their disposal as well. The average life of a neoprene wetsuit is usually around two years, meaning, each year nearly half a million surfers purchase a new suit, creating an estimated 380 tons of neoprene waste from wetsuits alone.
The Search for Eco-Friendly Materials
As the world moves towards more environmentally-conscious products and materials, alternatives have begun to pop-up to help do away with our reliance on these non-renewable and environmentally harmful wetsuits. Three companies are at the forefront of this initiative – leading the charge in the quest to reduce harmful chemicals in the environment and oceans through the development of eco-friendly wetsuits.
Patagonia (USA) – Yulex Wetsuits
Outdoor lifestyle brand, Patagonia, is leading the charge in developing eco-friendly wetsuits through their use of Yulex. Yulex is a breakthrough material that creates 80% fewer CO2 emissions than neoprene, the oil-based synthetic rubber used in most conventional wetsuits. This is possible in large part because the natural-rubber compound that Yulex sources for their wetsuits are from trees and forests that are certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council®) and Rainforest Alliance, eliminating the need for carbon-emitting factories.
Patagonia then mixes merino wool and recycled polyester, held together by natural glue and water paints, into their Yulex wetsuits to offer a warm, comfortable, flexible, and sustainable alternative to normal neoprene wetsuits.
The combination of Yulex, recycled materials, natural fibers, and glue allows Patagonia to produce eco-friendly wetsuits that drastically reduce damage to our planet by reducing pollutive chemicals and carbon emissions.
Feral (USA) – Limestone Wetsuits
Feral is a surf and lifestyle brand based in California that is continually looking for new alternatives to neoprene. Recently they have been experimenting with creating eco-friendly wetsuits derived from natural, sustainable rubber and limestone.
As discussed above, normal wetsuits are made from petroleum and through a series of chemical processes, many that release harmful volatile organic compounds into the earth and atmosphere, neoprene is formed. A chemically similar material to neoprene is formed using limestone. While the environmental impacts of petroleum are documented, the impacts of something derived from limestone are largely unknown. Like oil, limestone is a limited non-renewable resource that is mined from the earth. The limestone is then collected and crushed, fed into a furnace and heated to extremely high temps. From the furnace, the limestone is mixed with other components causing chemical reactions that are similar to those found in normal neoprene production. Its eco-friendliness comes from the fact that it is easier to extract from the earth – causing fewer carbon emissions and limestone “spills” when there are any, are a whole lot easier to clean up than oil – causing limited effects on the environment during the extraction process.
Picture (France) – Naturalprene Wetsuits
Picture Organic Clothing, based in France has been in the lab creating what could possibly be the most eco-friendly wetsuit on the market to date.
NaturalPrene is comprised of 85 percent natural rubber and 15 percent synthetic chlorine-free rubber. And rather than using toxic adhesives and solvents in the construction process, Picture uses a solvent-free, water-based glue to paste in their recycled polyester lining.
This neoprene, solvent, and petrol-free materials make the Picture wetsuit not only eco-friendly but incredibly high-tech as well. Their wetsuits come equipped with a unique silicone coating that is purported to allow you more power in the water while paddling and a proprietary high-performance polyester fabric that is hydrophobic, meaning it will repel water and dry faster than other wetsuits.
We commend these companies for going the extra mile to reduce the number of harmful chemicals released into the earth, atmosphere, and ocean. Since we began, we have always strived to be as environmentally friendly as possible, creating our line of balms from natural, plant-derived materials that will never stain or discolor your wetsuit, or swimwear.