Addressing the Problem of Neoprene

Published on April 2nd, 2019

Dear Scuttlebutt: I am old enough to remember when surfers and divers wore neoprene and sailors wore waterproof jackets and pants, but as I walk the dinghy parks I now see a lot of wetsuits being worn.

This is a reaction to how boat designs have changed but also how neoprene has been utilized in modern sailing gear. However, as our sport pounds its chest as the authority of what is good for the environment, when do we admit that our support of neoprene is contrary to this mission? – Irony in Ireland

Dear Irony: Neoprene is a non-biodegradable material made from petroleum which is bad for landfills (what isn’t?), and while there are recycling programs, they all seem to either be moving the gear to someone less fortunate or turning old wetsuits into other products like drink koozies, yoga mats, etc.

Sadly, unlike plastics, there is no end-of-life solution, so when you dump a used wetsuit, especially an older one, the fabric can’t be re-used like plastic bags. This would mean waste-processing companies would burn the materials and the remains stored at a dumping ground.

While the best solution is for us all to move to the Caribbean and be done with wetsuits, the next best solution is likely to use a recycling program for worn out wetsuits and blame the neoprene crisis on beer drinkers and yoga enthusiasts. – The Curmudgeon

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