How to recycle old wetsuits properly. In Australia, the best option to recycle old, worn, unusable wetsuits is to drop off any surf branded wetsuit to Rip Curl stores around Australia, which have partnered with TerraCycle to create a ‘Recycle Your Wetsuit’ program, disposing of wetsuits responsibly.
I had a couple of old, worn out wetsuits sitting in my cupboard at home.
I’d had them for over a year, using them almost every day when swim teaching in winter for my day job. After a while the chlorine had completely eaten away the material, so there were quite a few holes in the suit, making it no longer effective in keeping me warm in the water.
I’d been looking online for a new wetsuit, searching places like Depop or local thrift stores for secondhand options, and in stores like Patagonia for responsibly-made, sustainably-and ethically-made alternatives. I’d found a couple of really great wetsuits to wear, one for when I’m out swimming in the ocean during the cooler months of winter, and the other for when I’m working in the pool.
Sustainably-Made Wetsuit Alternatives
Patagonia’s wetsuits are more environmentally-friendly as they ‘use limestone-based polychloroprene for most of its neoprene products, reducing dependence on oil and oil-derived chemicals,’ says Todd Copeland, who works on Patagonia’s Fabric Development team.
However, while limestone may seem like a better alternative, it, too, is a limited, non-renewable resource just like oil, and the rock is mined from mountains ‘requiring diesel-powered equipment such as cranes, backhoes, and dump trucks the size of houses.’ So it has its fair share of consequences on the earth, too. ‘The crushed limestone is fed into a furnace and heated to extremely high temperatures (over 1982°C, or 3600°F) in an energy-intensive process. From the furnace, components are reacted with other chemicals to make products such as acetylene gas.’
To navigate this, Patagonia have been able to reduce the environmental impact of their wetsuits by using ‘recycled polyester and chlorine-free wool in the lining. These materials are more environmentally friendly than virgin polyester or chlorine-treated wool.’ But, according to Todd Copeland, their biggest environmental gain has been efficiency: ‘The wool grid lining allows us [Patagonia] to use a thinner layer of neoprene without sacrificing warmth retention. For example, Patagonia’s3-mm suit is as warm as a typical 3/4, reducing the amount of polychloroprene in the wetsuit and, proportionately, its environmental impact.’
They’ve also created the first ever wetsuit to be made from sustainably-certified plant-based rubber. These ‘green’ wetsuits use renewable natural rubber from hevea trees grown in compliance with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards. This material creates ‘80% fewer CO2 emissions than neoprene, the oil-based synthetic rubber used in most conventional wetsuits,’ states Patagonia.
This is not an ad or anything, I’m just a fan.
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How to Recycle Old, Broken Wetsuits
After finding a replacement wetsuit, I was left with the question of what to do with the old one?
I couldn’t donate it, it was broken. And I didn’t want to just throw it away either, as it would end up in landfill, most likely never completely breaking down due to the neoprene material used, which is made from petroleum and doesn’t biodegrade.
That left recycling.
I discovered that the popular surf brand, Rip Curl, had partnered with TerraCycle, a non-profit organisation helping to reduce the flow of plastic waste from rivers and canals worldwide, preventing it reaching the ocean and causing widespread pollution. These two companies were working together to recycle old, worn wetsuits.
In 2021, Rip Curl expanded its wetsuit recycling program, ‘Recycle Your Wetsuit,’ to all stores nationwide, meaning that Aussies could drop off any surf branded wetsuit to participating Rip Curl stores across Australia where the wetsuit materials would then be recycled by TerraCycle to be repurposed as soft fall matting in playgrounds and outdoor gyms.
The selected stores are also accepting wetsuits via post for those living in the Northern Territory, Tasmania, the ACT, or rural and remote areas. Unfortunately, the stores will only accept wetsuits, not booties, gloves, hoods or heavy diving dry suits at this time. See here to search for participating Rip Curl stores near you.
To recycle an old wetsuit, simply visit your closest participating Rip Curl store and drop off the old surfing wetsuit there. That’s it. You do not need to clean the wetsuit before taking it in to be recycled, however, please note that Rip Curl stores will not accept wet items, so just make sure the wetsuits are dry beforehand.
From there, the old wetsuit is sent, with others, to TerraCycle to be collected and crumbed into the new raw material. This new raw material can then be used to create things like soft fall matting in playgrounds.
If you wish to mail an old wetsuit, email email@example.com and their team will help make the process as smooth and easy as possible.
The Top Brands for Eco-Friendly Wetsuits
The best way to overcome the issue of plastic waste is to stop it at its source. There are so many other alternatives nowadays for better quality, eco-friendly wetsuits. Of course, the best option is secondhand, as it means what’s already available is used first instead of making more. But if you’re looking for something new, here are the top brands for more sustainably-made wetsuits:
- Patagonia have developed a way to make eco-friendly wetsuits from natural rubber. While natural rubber can come with its own problems like deforestation, Patagonia have managed to navigate this by sourcing only FSC certified rubber. They also use recycled polyester and recycled spandex to give the wetsuit a warm inside layer.
- Billabong have also been using Yulex (the natural rubber material used by Patagonia) to make their wetsuits. These ‘green’ wetsuits have a CICLO®-Infused one hundred percent recycled superflex jersey on the outside, and are made from eighty percent natural rubber, ten percent recycled nylon, and ten percent recycled polyester.
- Vissla use Japanese limestone neoprene, which isn’t the best option for eco-friendly wetsuits. However, some of their ‘eco-friendly’ initiatives have been to use recycled tires in the material of the wetsuit, Aqua-A (water-based glue) to bind the material together, and dope dyed yarn (this dying process saves a lot of water). Vissla have also been making boardshorts from discarded coconut husk.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed are my own personal thoughts and feelings of the products mentioned. Check with your doctor or health practitioner if you are uncertain about trying out any of the products, recipes or tips mentioned in this post.
Have you recycled wetsuits before? How did it go? Share in the comments below.
Lots of love,