Reckon you could accurately list inventory of every single possession you own? Not just the big things, or your wardrobe, but literally every little bit of anything? No way can I do that, and I just lived full time in a van for 12 months! That experience required me to majorly consolidate what I deemed as essential for my life, and I still feel like I have way too much stuff.
Wetsuits though, wetsuits are tricky. Real tricky. If you're similarly obsessed with surfing as I am, you need a bunch of different types for different conditions, and none of them tend to last more than 2 years.
Apparently one of neoprene’s initial uses was to line the bottoms of landfill pits, as it was the least biodegradable material that could end up in the ground. Fuck! I need my wetsuit for oceanic pursuits, meaning said wetsuit facilitates my most important interactions with nature! But then it also carries this severe environmental penalty for its production?! Sucks!!!
I’ve been doing lots of reading about the history of traditional neoprene, and what alternatives exist to avoid the significant costs of material and labour intensity during manufacture. The conclusion I have long suspected and have now definitively arrived at is that the greenest wetsuit you can use is the one you already have. With such rampant consumerism prevailing in the collective consciousness of our constantly growing population, it is more important now than ever before to put an extra few minute’s consideration towards the genuine necessity of every single new purchase you make.
Look, this isn't exactly a newsflash, let alone a topic I am introducing for the first time. I am aware of the unrelenting nature of my rhetoric about purchasing new things according to the ideal of ‘buy it once’. But I'm not the only one barking up this tree; plenty of wetsuit manufacturers are seeking natural neoprene and rubber alternatives, Patagonia, Matuse, SevenSeas and Vissla to name just a few.
All of these companies agree on this philosophy, that the easiest way to lighten your footprint is to simply consume less by keeping durability paramount when purchasing. The other idea they have in common is a sad but honest admission that there is not yet such a thing as a totally “green” wetsuit; all suits still require some combination of oil-based neoprene and latex rubber.
The problem with petroleum based neoprene is obvious, as global oil reserves are severely depleted, and the production process requires an astonishing amount of energy. Similarly, latex rubber comes from the Hevea ‘rubber tree’ plant, grown in tropical and subtropical regions (read: rainforest destruction!) and needs arsenic pesticides followed by ammonium treatment. Arsenic and ammonia?! These poisons are as damaging to the planet as they are to human beings.
So what's a chap to do, eh?! How can you know how durable a wetsuit will really be without just buying it yourself and evaluating it’s life start to finish? And then what if it takes 5 alternative ‘green’ suits to meet the lifespan of 1 traditional neoprene suit? It's a really challenging purchase decision and if you are a fellow ocean-goer, you ought to be granting the ocean - whose natural gifts you are enjoying - the due diligence in researching how you can make as little an environmental impact as possible.
NB The article I found most helpful for a succinct summary of the wetsuit world is here - it covers history of traditional neoprene, and specifics on why wetsuits are such a burdensome product to create. Kia-Ora SevenSeas and thanks for a great read!