Wetsuits get new life through Rip Curl’s recycle program

Wetsuits get new life through Rip Curl’s recycle program

The invention of the wetsuit in the 1950s allowed surfers to brave chilly water year-round, but it came with an environmental cost – the neoprene material used is a petroleum-based substance that takes decades to decompose.

Rip Curl, which has its North American headquarters in San Clemente, is hoping to keep old suits from stacking up in landfills.

In 2021, it launched a recycling program, collecting more than 20,000 wetsuits since. The program started first in Australia and Europe and then in the United States a year later. Since the U.S. program started, an estimated 5,000 wetsuits have been recycled.

The surf brand teamed up with recycling company TerraCycle to grind up the material and transform the substance for use in children’s playground matting.

“It helps us redirect wetsuits that are inevitable for landfills and upcycles them,” said PJ Connell, vice president of marketing and ecommerce.

It was about two decades ago that the surf industry started looking at ways to be more sustainable and protect the environment, with more efforts to use recyclable materials in products, said Vipe Desai, executive director for the Surf Industry Members Association.

Already, some of the Rip Curl wetsuit material is a mix of Yulex, a natural rubber, instead of neoprene. Patagonia has been using Yulex for about a decade, fine-tuning designs through the years.

Xcel has a goal to make its wetsuits out of neoprene-free materials by 2026, brand leaders have said.

“This is good business on many levels. It is good for the planet. It is good for future surfers. At every product meeting we task the team to make the best wetsuit and then to make it as green as possible,” CEO Jarka Duba said in a statement.

Surf brand Vissla, headquartered in Aliso Viejo, is using a Japanese limestone as the base for its neoprene. Also, a selection of its suits are knitted with recycled materials to reduce waste.

Any and all incremental advancements in making a better product, that are better for the planet and consumers, are welcome, said Desai.

But making wetsuits out of less environmentally harmful materials has its challenges, he said. Consumers complained some of the early innovations using materials other than neoprene were stiff and not flexible. And it costs more to make the suits out of sustainable materials, he said.

“It’s about quality, performance, durability and price,” Desai said. “All these things you kind of have to nail, it’s hard to give up something if it’s going to cost more money or it’s not going to perform well. That’s what we saw with some of these wetsuit brands or manufacturers that touted something more eco-friendly than neoprene. You have to pay attention to that aspect – what is the consumer going to want?”

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Rip Curl’s wetsuit recycling program – any brand of wetsuit is accepted – is another solution. TerraCycle picks up the used suits to grind up and mix with other materials to make the soft-fall playground matting.

With people getting fresh wetsuits for Christmas, or wearing through older ones now that the water has chilled, it’s a good time to recycle suits they don’t want, Connell said. “Instead of collecting dust or spiders, we’ll put them back in playground mats, where they get a second life.”

Suits can also be sent in by mail to Rip Curl Wetsuit Recycling, 193 Avenida La Pata, San Clemente, CA 92673

Wetsuits do not have to be cleaned before they are turned in, but they need to be dry.  People who donate a suit get a $25 Rip Curl coupon for their next purchase.

For more information, visit Ripcurl.com.