Like Santa’s little helpers, Surfrider Pacific Rim crew was busy stuffing giant cardboard boxes with tattered wetsuits at the Far West Distributors warehouse in Ucluelet last week.
The cargo of raggedy neoprene is destined for Southern California where it will be turned into yoga mats for American company SUGA.
Since launching the wetsuit reincarnation program a couple years ago, Surfrider alongside a few of the local surf shops—Surf Sister, Pacific Surf, and Relic—has recycled about 4.5 tonnes of wetsuits, booties, and gloves.
Despite the success of diverting the used neoprene from landfill, Surfrider Pacific Rim has put it on their 2020 wish list to keep the worn out wetsuits on the Coast in order to reduce the carbon footprint from trucking them all the way to California.
“We would love to create a program were instead we recycle these [wetsuits] here locally and use them for our own economy, our own products, our own uses,” said Surfrider Pacific Rim chapter chair Kerry Harwood.
Chapter manager Lilly Woodbury re-iterated.
“In a true circular economy, we are not shipping our waste all over the world. We are using it locally as a resource. This Island produces a lot of neoprene between all the different outdoor recreational activities, so there is a huge commercial opportunity for someone to take these wetsuits and turn them into yoga mats or playground mats, all different kinds of products. They can be used for tons of different things. That’s what we are hoping. We really want to see someone locally or regionally take this on and use this material locally,” said Woodbury.
The greater vision of the reincarnation program, said Woodbury, is to ultimately put the responsibility of the ‘end of life’ back on the surf companies.
“What needs to happen is that shift needs to go from the consumer back onto the manufacturer. So, ideally, all the surf companies are going to be responsible for collecting those suits at the end of their life. The way they could do that is to have a deposit on the suits similar to what we have on bottle deposit rate,” she explained.
“Ideally, those companies would turn those wetsuits back into new wetsuits or another functional product. That will make the whole supply chain more efficient and less wasteful because they will have to figure out the end of life. They will have to consider the whole life cycle of the product,” said Woodbury.
Scott Johnson, managing partner at Far West Distributors, said Far West is very happy to host and support Surfrider’s wetsuit program. Since 2017, Far West has provided the facility and equipment to warehouse and transport the hundreds of wetsuits, booties, and gloves.
“It feels great to know that all of that neoprene does not end up in our landfill,” said Johnson. “The program also aligns with our ongoing commitment to provide the local business community with products that are as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible.”
Most recently, Far West started carrying bamboo cutlery, bamboo coffee cups with paper lids, and sugar compostable containers.
Worn wetsuits can be dropped off at Far West or Relic Surf Shop in Ucluelet or at Surf Sister and Pacific Surf School in Tofino. Surfrider asks that the used gear be rinsed and dried thoroughly prior to drop off.
If you have an idea for recycling the neoprene locally, send a message to: firstname.lastname@example.org.