Here we break down sustainable neoprene – what it is and how it’s made. We also highlight the processes around standard neoprene and how it harms our environment. Learn what really makes a wetsuit ‘green’, and how these earth friendly products perform.
For people that love to swim, surf, or explore the water in any fashion that requires a wetsuit, a love and appreciation for nature is usually a given. That's why it’s so unfortunate that most of us have been blissfully unaware of the toxicity our beloved wetsuit represents. Luckily, in recent years, new materials, processes, and more awareness as to what is behind neoprene manufacturing have allowed for the production of extremely innovative wetsuits that do just as good a job at keeping you warm as standard neoprene, but allow you to feel much better about your next encounters with nature - supporting the planet in what you use to explore and enjoy the elements.
Toxic Neoprene Wetsuits Before Eco Materials
Since the their invention in the 1950’s, wetsuits have been made of synthetic, neoprene foam, produced with loads of toxic and harmful petrochemicals. Standard neoprene, also known as polychloroprene, is produced by the polymerization of chloroprene, and is considered a synthetic rubber. Explained simply, neoprene is made through a series of chemical reactions. Chloroprene binds the molecules together, resulting in polychloroprene chips. The chips are then heated to melting point, then mixed together with toxic foaming agents which are then heated for the purposes of expansion and shape. Neoprene was first invented by DuPont, one of the world’s most well-known chemical companies. Unsurprisingly, it has been found that components of synthetic neoprene are considered “reprotoxic”, which is a type of substance that is toxic to the reproductive system and can increase one’s toxic burden within the body and contribute to infertility and other issues. This kind of polymer-based neoprene has also been known to cause allergic reactions. Not exactly something we'd like to be swathed in for any amount of time...
While there are a growing number of innovations in wetsuits today, below are some of the most commonly used, accessible, and earth friendly components of eco friendly wetsuits. When assessing the sustainability level of any product, it's important to take a wholistic view, combining materials, production methods, facilities, and life span. It's yet another way we can arm ourselves with information to support our incredible outdoor playground.
Created from post-consumer scrap rubber tires that are first shredded and put through a series of non-toxic chemical reactions (think high heat heat), the tires are first turned into powdered carbon black. This carbon black is then combined with carbon chips, which are neoprene chips made of limestone, which then become CarbonBlack neoprene sheets that go through a process of further heating, pressure treatments, and are finally cut into a desired thickness. All trimmings that come off in the cutting process, are reused to create the next batch of CarbonBlack neoprene.
With extremely effective thermal insulating properties and even better flexibility than you’ll find in petroleum based neoprene, limestone neoprene (which is a component of the aforementioned CarbonBlack neoprene) is mined from the earth and much easier on the environment than it’s petrol-heavy counterparts. The carbon footprint of this resource is also significantly less than traditionally created neoprene.
While eco neoprene is in large part the neoprene material itself, wetsuits also require a non-neoprene lining that can perform well in watery conditions. While polyester is the standard petrol-heavy material that is used, some of the best eco products now utilize polyester from recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. This not only reduces the pressure on natural resources used to create standard polyester, this also makes use of a material we have an abundance of, that pollutes our precious ocean and waterways. It is important to note that special attention should be paid to the “post consumer” use of this plastic, as the high demand for some products allow some to “appear” that they are doing good by recycling plastic bottles, but sometimes use plastic bottles produced solely for the purpose of so-called eco-material!
In order to save energy and water, some manufacturers are now using a dope-dying technique, which is the process of dying yarn to a pre-selected amount of colors to create a fabric, rather than the yarn getting dyed as a whole after being weaved into the fabric. This reduces pollution, is incredibly efficient, and since the fibers are fully pigmented before knitting, the color fastness is vastly improved and is much less susceptible to UV fade – which is a great property for a sun-drenched wetsuit to have.
Water based glue is a new innovation in wetsuits that allow the same level of bonding strength without the harm to the environment. By eliminated harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from the production of standard solvent glues, the process of creating a neoprene wetsuit becomes more clean and earth friendly – a simple, yet important step to ensure all aspects of wetsuit construction are paid attention to.
Reducing Energy Consumption
The best eco wetsuit manufacturers address, not only to the materials and processes that go into creating the garment, but also the facility it is made in. By using alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, and tapping into opportunities that reduce C02 emission, the wearer can feel confident that close attention was paid to every aspect of creating a wetsuit that places the least amount of harm on the environment.
Cradle to Grave Thinking
When it’s time for a new wetsuit, think of your wetsuit as having a life of its own. Consider where you want its next ‘home’ to be. From inception, to production, to you, an eco wetsuit has enjoyed a very low impact, eco-friendly life. For the next phase, does it belong in a landfill or can it be re-used, repurposed or recycled? Get creative and do some research to find new and interesting ways to ensure the ‘cradle to grave’ experience of your wetsuit is a positive one. Often times, repairing, or simply giving to someone else to use are ideal options.
Vivida Eco Neoprene
Vivida Eco Neoprene Features:
Our neoprene is created in partnership with the bluesign System Partner certification. This certification ensures energy & water resources, as well as waste disposal and chemical usage, comply with the highest and most demanding standards in the industry.