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Has your wetsuit seen better days? If you’re having a hard time getting your arm through the sleeve without poking yet another hole, or if you’ve outgrown your current suit, it may be time to say goodbye – but that doesn’t mean it should end up in a landfill.
The very qualities that make those rubber suits so useful in protecting us from cold water are exactly the reason they’re a terrible thing to trash – that material is designed specifically not to break down, so if your wetsuit ends up in a landfill, it’ll still be sitting there long after you, your children, and your children’s children are gone. And yet, according to an estimate provided by cold water surf apparel company Finesterre, over 9200 tons (8,380 tonnes) of old wetsuits land in the garbage each year.
We can do better. We must do better. And fortunately, there are an increasing number of options to make it a little easier for us to keep our old wetsuits out of the dumpster.
What to Do With an Old Wetsuit
First and foremost, consider whether your wetsuit could still be used by someone else. If it’s worn out and ripped up, then the answer is probably no, but if it no longer fits or you’ve simply decided to upgrade, give that suit a second life! You could donate it to a local swim or tri club and help an athlete overcome one more barrier to entry to our sport. Even a suit with a couple of small tears may be able to be repaired and used for years.
If your wetsuit is in truly rough shape, though, recycling it may be a better way to go – and there are a few ways to go about doing just that. This is truly exciting news, because wetsuits are not an easy product to recycle. There’s no way to simply recycle neoprene back into raw neoprene; you can’t simply use an old wetsuit to make a new one. But never fear – your old wetsuit can still be put to good use.
Recycling Through a Wetsuit Company
Many of these wetsuit recycling programs are relatively new. Rip Curl, for example, just last month expanded their wetsuit recycling program from Australia-only to include the U.S., France, Portugal, and Spain. They’ve partnered with Terracycle, who crumbs the wetsuits into new raw material which is then used to create things like soft fall matting for playgrounds. “Terracycle is by far the leader in recycling ‘hard-to-recycle’ materials,” said PJ Connell, Rip Curl Director of Marketing and Online. “The partnership is an absolute win.”
Other wetsuit brands partner with other companies that make specific products for retail, as is the case with KASSIA+SURF. “As a long-time surfer, ocean steward, and business owner I always want to do all I can to help our planet thrive and find an end-of-life cycle opportunity for used gear,” said founder Kassia Meador. “Recycling wetsuits was always a dream of mine, and it was made possible by my friend Brian Shields, founder of Suga Yoga.”
KASSIA+SURF offers discounts on new wetsuits when you send suits for recycling in through them, and Suga takes the old wetsuits and upcycles them into yoga mats.
Suga also accepts wetsuits via other sources, and in all, they’ve recycled 63,372 pounds of wetsuits. KASSIA+SURF alone has contributed significantly; Meador says she typically takes four to six van loads full of suits to Suga each year; she also noted that she receives handwritten letters of gratitude from customers who are thrilled to have the opportunity to upcycle their suits.
Recycling Wetsuits Through Other Companies
Like Suga, Terracycle also accepts suits directly, as do a number of other companies including Dirtbags, who makes coasters and bags; Lavarubber, who makes coaster and slippers, Green Guru Gear, who makes bike tires, and more.
You can find a more complete list of wetsuit brands and other companies with wetsuit recycling programs here.
Wetsuit Recycling 101
Each wetsuit recycling program is a little different, so before you send off a suit, it’s worth taking a moment to make sure you’re choosing the option that’s best for you. Here are a few things to consider:
- What types of wetsuits are accepted? Generally, triathlon and surf wetsuits are accepted in these programs, while thicker dive suits are not. However, some wetsuit companies only accept their own brand of wetsuits for their recycling program, so make sure you do your research.
- How are they collected? In some cases, you can mail a suit in; you may have to cover shipping, or post may be covered. Other programs solely accept wetsuits at set drop off locations.
- Are there any perks? While keeping a wetsuit out of the landfill is rewarding on its own, we all love a discount, right? Some programs offer a discount or voucher to use toward new wetsuits or other products, but if this part is important to you, be sure to read the fine print. Rip Curl, for example, offers a voucher, but only for in-store drop offs.
- Is your wetsuit dry? Most programs specify that wetsuits must be completely dry, so as tempting as it might be to take it out for one last open water swim and drop it off on the way home, give it time to fully dry out before donating it.
New gear is always fun, but it’s even better when we’re able to do something positive with the old gear that’s served us well. “Many of us have wetsuits that get old and collect dust in our garages,” Connell said. “It feels so good to finally have an alternative to throwing those old suits in the trash … and be able to recycle them into future generations of playgrounds.”
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