Fact Sheet FS1296
Each year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to the dozens of beaches all along the New Jersey shoreline to enjoy the sun, water, and waves. For many of these visitors, as well as residents of coastal towns, wetsuits are an essential piece of equipment for their time at the shore while surfing, paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking, and diving. A wetsuit protects the user from cold water and sunburn, provides safety from skin abrasion, offers buoyancy, and, in some ways, expands the typical season most people would expect to enjoy these water sports.
Factors such as quality, usage, and care will determine the lifespan of a wetsuit and its ability to function properly. In general, a good quality wetsuit that gets regular usage can be expected to last from three to five years. Even with proper care and maintenance, the thinner the wetsuit and the lower the quality, the shorter the useful lifespan. Under these less than ideal conditions, a wetsuit may need replacement every year.
What Makes Up a Wetsuit?
To afford a high level of protection from cold temperatures and potential skin injuries, the material that makes up a wetsuit, neoprene, needs to be strong and durable. Neoprene is a synthetic rubber made from fossil fuels that is highly resistant to breaking down in the environment and is adaptable to many different applications. The qualities that make neoprene good for wetsuits also allow it to last for a long time if simply thrown away and buried in a landfill. Other chemicals used in the manufacture of wetsuits, such as glues, solvents, and plastics, are highly toxic and can be released to the environment if sent to a landfill.
New Jersey is not alone in its love of the beach and water sports with an estimated 20 million surfers and 6 million divers worldwide. This equates to around 250 tons of neoprene wetsuits being discarded every year. With the large number of wetsuits entering landfills, surfers, divers, and kayakers need to find other options to dispose of their old and worn out wetsuits. Since many people wish to continue to enjoy the shore and want to protect its water quality, the following environmentally friendly alternatives to throwing away an old wetsuit are presented.
What to Do with an Old Wetsuit?
Properly investing in a high quality wetsuit appropriate for use in an activity you enjoy can greatly reduce the number of wetsuits that you use. You can enjoy surfing and diving for longer periods by wearing a wetsuit, but the properties of the wetsuit (thickness, long sleeve vs. short sleeve, etc.) are different for each activity. Purchasing a high quality suit that fits your needs is a necessity that can be supported by purchasing from a suitably knowledgeable retailer. For example, purchasing a wetsuit for diving from a professional dive shop and a wetsuit for surfing from a reputable surf shop will provide you with a correctly fitted and appropriate wetsuit. To help you choose the right wetsuit, visit either the Divers Alert Network, Professional Association of Diving Instructors, or Surfing Handbook websites.
Another option would be to purchase a 'green wetsuit' that is made from natural rubbers, a limestone-based product, or other sustainable material. Using these wetsuits would reduce the amount of synthetic materials needed to produce neoprene and therefore the amount of synthetic materials that end up in the environment. The 'green wetsuit' industry is still young, but those so inclined may be able to find a source that fits their needs for a long-lasting wetsuit. The Surfrider Foundation has provided a guide to companies with wetsuits made of natural rubber and non-toxic glues available on their website.
If your wetsuit is still in good condition and/or you have simply outgrown it, you can donate the suit to an organization that will use the wetsuit for its own purposes. Some organizations accept wetsuit donations for use in teaching surfing to underserved communities. Many of these organizations are specifically looking for children's wetsuits. One such organization is Warm Current that works to develop community by teaching children in Latin countries to surf. Another is AmpSurf that teaches surfing to people with disabilities. A simple online search can point you in the direction of a deserving organization that will accept donated wetsuits. So when you or your child outgrows their suit, look into these types of organization before tossing the wetsuit out.
If your wetsuit seems to be beyond repair, you can use it to repair other wetsuits! Sometimes, a small neoprene patch is all you need to extend the lifetime of your current wetsuit. It is quite easy to repair holes and tears in a neoprene wetsuit by using material from an old unusable wetsuit. Cut a piece of neoprene to use as a patch from the unusable wetsuit and attach it to your usable wetsuit with a neoprene adhesive to breathe new life into your still usable wetsuit.
There are a large number of companies that will accept used wetsuits and recycle them into new products. Laptop cases, coasters, can coolers, and yoga mats are some of the examples of products into which a neoprene wetsuit can be transformed. Some companies will even provide discounts on their products for people who send them used wetsuits.
The following is a list of companies that accept the donation of used and/or old wetsuits to use them in their recycled products. Before sending in a used wetsuit, review the guidelines on each company's website to determine the conditions under which they will accept a used and/or old wetsuit. A simple online search will yield other companies that will accept used wetsuits and what their requirements are for acceptance.
2138 Bridge Avenue
Point Pleasant Beach, NJ 08742
Wetsuit Recycling Processing
5931 S Western Boulevard # B-C
Los Angeles, CA 90047
533 2nd Street, Suite 209
Encinitas, CA 92024
For more resources regarding summer safety and protecting our beaches, visit Rutgers NJAES Cooperative Extension of Ocean County's Jersey Summer Shore Safety information.
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