Green is the new black when it comes to wetsuits — and by that, we don’t mean the color. There’s a new trend in the wetsuit industry, and it involves using sustainably-sourced materials to replace petroleum-based neoprene commonly found in most wetsuits today.
So what’s the reason behind the switch? According to news, 500,000 surfers in the United Kingdom replace their wetsuits once every two years, leading to over 380 tons of non-biodegradable waste ending up in landfills every year. Because of this, surfers are now looking for ‘green’ alternatives to effectively reduce their carbon footprint and help save the planet.
In this article, we’ll be talking about the harmful effects of conventional neoprene used in making wetsuits, including how the use of plant-based rubber is slowly changing the industry. Here you’ll also find the best eco-friendly wetsuits in the market so you can enjoy surfing without the guilt.
Table of Contents
What are conventional wetsuits made of?
Wetsuits provide protection and insulation to keep you warm in cold-water surfing; hence why their constructed material should be as durable as it is heat-retaining.
In 1930, Dupont Company invented the synthetic rubber used for manufacturing different surfing gear, and in 1951, the first-ever neoprene wetsuit was created. The neoprene material that they used was similar in many ways to natural rubber — it’s durable, bouncy, weather-proof, and water-resistant; however, there are many problems that come with neoprene such as its manufacturing process, as well as its sources.
Neoprene from petroleum
Neoprene is made by melting polychloroprene rubber chips mixed with foaming ingredients and coloring pigments such as black, then it’s baked in an oven to expand. After baking, the gas bubbles it produced make neoprene a good insulating material.
Although neoprene from petroleum is generally safe to wear and get contact with the skin, it’s a non-biodegradable material. Sourcing and manufacturing it poses harmful risks to the environment, as well as your health.
In fact, the United States Environmental Protection Agency determined that the substances and chemicals emitted from oil-derived neoprene are carcinogens, or the substances known to cause cancer in humans.
This means that if you live nearby a neoprene manufacturing plant or you’re constantly exposed to its fumes because you work inside its factory, you could be at risk of developing cancer in the long term. Meanwhile, short-term exposure may cause health hazards such as respiratory problems, dizziness, chest pains, skin irritation, headache, and reduced blood pressure.
Neoprene from limestones
Aside from petroleum, researchers found out that neoprene fabric can also be derived from a calcium carbonate mineral known as limestones. These rocks produce a lighter, more flexible, and more stretchable fabric compared to its predecessor.
In the 1960s, many people believed that limestones are the ‘greener alternatives to petroleum’; however, this theory is inaccurate. Limestones are mined from the deepest of the earth, which doesn’t exactly make it environmentally friendly. Its sources are limited, and limestones are non-renewable. Also, converting this rock to become a fabric produces more carbon dioxide emissions than its oil-derived counterpart.
Top 5 Best Eco-Friendly Wetsuits
Even if neoprene’s sources and manufacturing process are already proven to be harmful, a lot of companies still use these materials in making wetsuits until today. But since surfers are now becoming aware of its negative impact on the environment, they try to make a change by choosing eco-friendly wetsuit alternatives.
But with several wetsuit brands claiming they’re going ‘green’, how do you know which one is the real deal? We’ve searched high and low for the top 5 most sustainable brands, including their environmentally friendly wetsuits that eco-minded surfers will surely love.
- Patagonia R3 Yulex Back-Zip Full Suit
- Vissla Eco Seas’ 3/2.5 Full Suit
- Xcel’s Infiniti LTD Wetsuit
- Picture Organic’s Dome 3/2 FZ
- Billabong’s Furnace Natural Zipperless Full Wetsuit
#1: Patagonia R3 Yulex Back-Zip Full Suit
Perhaps the best thing that ever happened to the wetsuit industry is when Patagonia invented Yulex — an innovative fabric that substitutes for the use of synthetic rubber in wetsuits.
Unlike neoprene, Yulex is a plant-based material that is sourced from trees. It’s both renewable and sustainable because the trees used by Patagonia are able to produce rubber for 30 years. They are also certified by the Forest Stewardship Council by Rainforest Alliance, which means that the trees they source from are from certified plantations that don’t contribute to deforestation.
But everything didn’t start so smoothly like Patagonia planned. Their first version of Yulex wetsuits were free from synthetic rubber; however, they are not as well-fitting and flexible as neoprene wetsuits. They’re also not very warm and they were very uncomfortable to wear.
So when the Yulex 2.0 was released, Patagonia loyalists rejoiced — not only was this version 20% more stretchable than its predecessor, but it’s also 5% softer and lighter. This makes it fast-drying and easy to store in bags.
Take note that Patagonia only uses 85% of Yulex on their products, as 15% of the material used on this wetsuit is chlorine-free synthetic rubber polymer. Although this brand is technically not 100% sustainable, their many efforts in preserving the environment counts in so many ways.
Patagonia wears many hats, and aside from making use of Yulex for the R3 Yulex wetsuit, they also color it with solution-dyed linings that save up to 86% water in production or 100 liters of water. This process also enables them to reduce their carbon emissions by 96%.
To take their environmental vision a couple of steps further, this company disregards the use of solvent-based glues and opted for water-based instead for this wetsuit’s lamination. Meanwhile, the face of their fabric and the thermal microgrid lining uses recycled polyester to reduce waste.
This full suit is made for dynamic movements. The fabric stretches without binding joints, and it gives more flex in the shoulder so you are more free to move. Finally, the cost of the R3 Yulex wetsuit is $489. It has a higher price point than the other brands on this list because of it’s reputation and the wetsuit’s overall quality and workmanship.
|Sustainably sourced and eco-friendly||More expensive than its neoprene alternatives|
|Light and comfortable to wear||Not as flexible as neoprene|
|Good stitching and lining|
#2: Vissla Eco Seas 3/2.5 Full Suit
Next we have the brand Vissla that’s first known for using neoprene derived from limestones. Although this manufacturing process reduces the production’s carbon footprint in some way, it’s not very sustainable because limestones are limited resources. For this very reason, Vissla created Eco Seas, a line that follows suit in Patagonia’s sustainable process of producing wetsuits made from natural rubber.
Eco Seas is the result of Vissla’s collaboration with Sheico to utilize environmentally conscious materials such as NaturalPrene, water-based adhesives, and recycled bottles and polyester integrated into the Eco Seas wetsuit lineup. Let’s discuss each one of them.
NaturalPrene is natural rubber that’s harvested from trees to make neoprene-like fabric minus the negative impact. The rubber trees they gather from are able to produce sap for decades, making them a more sustainable option compared to limestones which are non-renewable.
To fully eliminate the use of neoprene on this wetsuit, Eco Seas also utilizes UltraSpan technology for upcycling used bottles for their wetsuits’ interior and exterior linings. Approximately, this process recycles up to 45 bottles. The upcycled thermal technology also provides this wetsuit more warmth and insulation.
Eco Seas also makes use of water-based glues for this wetsuit’s lining laminations; therefore, no harmful chemicals or solvents are included in its manufacturing process. For pigmentation, Eco Seas makes use of Dope Dye Yarns and pyrolyzed carbon tires to create Eco-Carbon Black. This operation reduces this full suit’s carbon dioxide emission by 200 grams, and it also conserves liters of water in the process.
And oh, the subtle branding or logo of this wetsuit is also worth the mention. Albeit minor, this effort lessens the use of solvent-based printing.
The brand Vissla Eco Seas is in partnership with Bluesign System who makes sure Vissla is in constant compliance with the global textile standards. This system also monitors their water and energy efficiency, as well as the disposal of their wastes.
Lastly, Eco Seas’ eco-friendly wetsuits are made not just to create an environmental impact, but also for flexibility and comfort. The wetsuit’s front-zip closure enables you to easily take off this wetsuit whether wet or dry, while its tailored fitting allows you to give your best performance every time.
|Uses recycled polyester and PET bottles for the wetsuits’ linings||Interior linings may tear or separate after multiple wears|
|Cheaper than the leading eco-friendly wetsuit brand|
|Certified by a third-party system|
#3: Xcel 5/4 Infiniti LTD Wetsuit
Hailed as the ‘Wetsuit of the Year’ in 2019, Xcel’s Infiniti Limited helps save the planet as you surf the waves.
Xcel is a Hawaiian-based company that’s also taking initiatives for greener and more environmental-conscious wetsuit production. When it comes to manufacturing processes, this company utilizes hydroelectricity to repurpose waste heat for aqua farming. Aside from that, their Hawaii headquarters is powered by a 34-kilowatt solar panel system that is estimated to reduce 885 tons of carbon dioxide emissions throughout its lifetime.
Instead of sourcing their neoprene fabric from petroleum, Xcel Infiniti derives its fabrics from limestones, an earth-derivative resource that doesn’t cause cancer. But while Xcel’s main components and methods aren’t as sustainable and eco-friendly as sourcing fabric from rubber trees, Xcel is also able to reduce their carbon emission by 2.698 kg just for the production of this surfing gear.
Xcel’s innovative technologies for cleaner operations allow them to recycle polyester fibers and neoprene to turn them into products aside from wetsuits, hence minimizing toxic waste that ends up in landfills. By using Dope Dyed Yarns, Xcel is also able to save up to 104 liters of water for this wetsuit.
On to Infiniti’s specifications, a lot of surfers swear by this wetsuit’s Thermo interior layers that are able to retain more heat and provide insulation during cold water surfing even in harsh winter months. Meanwhile, its microfiber technology gives a weightless feel similar to having a second layer of skin. It’s comfortable to wear, and its channel flex gives you freedom of movement so you can always give your optimum performance.
|Durable, last longer than other wetsuits on its price point||Limestone neoprene is not very flexible|
|Price is cheaper compared to leading brands|
|Comes in different colors and designs|
|Lightweight and easy to pack|
#4: Picture Organic Dome 3/2 FZ
Picture Organic is known to be one of the most eco-friendly wetsuit brands today. Established in 2008 and awarded at the International Sporting Goods trade fair for manufacturing innovative products, this brand aims to reduce its brand’s environmental impact by using sustainable alternatives to replace non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels. Instead of using petroleum-based fabric on their wetsuits, Picture Organic opts to utilize low-carbon energy sources such as geothermal, hydro, and biomass.
Aside from that, Picture Organic also aims to promote responsible consumerism and support the Fashion Revolution movement to provide transparency on the kind of environment their employees work in. In 2019, B.Corp granted this brand the highest distinction reward for the companies committed to making social impacts. Not only do they care about the environment, but also about their workforce, too.
When it comes to their clothing and wetsuits, Picture Organic makes use of two different technologies known as NaturalPrene and Eicoprene.
NaturalPrene is a fabric made from 85% natural rubber harvested from Malaysia, while Eicoprene is a combination of limestone and recycled tires. For the Dome wetsuit, Picture Organic utilizes 80% NaturalPrene-Eicoprene for the fabric with 10% polyamide and 10% recycled polyester.
Similar to other brands on this list, Picture Organic also uses water-based adhesives before blind-stitching their wetsuits’ fabric to lessen the use of chemicals for the lamination process. This reduces carbon footprint and water pollution as well.
We picked the Dome 3/2 FZ wetsuit because it is designed for comfortability on warm water surfing (57-66°F). It’s constructed with 3D knit technology, integrated with Power Seams for flexibility, and lined with Dry Now for moisture-wicking and fast-drying time. To top it off, its front chest zip closure allows you to easily put on and take off this wetsuit.
In order to keep this wetsuit affordable, Picture Organic doesn’t manufacture their products in France where their headquarter is based. Instead, their factories are located in Turkey and China because these countries have cheaper labor costs.
|Internationally recognized for their sustainable efforts||May need sizing up|
|Made from stretchy and lightweight fabric|
|Good value for money|
#5: Billabong’s Furnace Natural Zipperless Full Wetsuit
Finally, we end this list with one of the pioneers of starting the eco-friendly approach in manufacturing wetsuits — Billabong.
This brand started its journey way back in 2009 with its first-ever Japanese limestone-derived neoprene known as the B9 Suit; however, since the B9 was stiff and more expensive than its petroleum-based alternatives, it didn’t receive much success. That was way back then, and they’ve further improved their products. Today, Billabong’s Furnace wetsuits are among the most sustainable wetsuits in the market.
The Furnace Natural wetsuit utilizes Yulex Pure Stretch sourced from rubber trees to replace fabric made from synthetic rubber. This wetsuit is 85% Yulex and 15% synthetic stabilization, and it also uses 100% recycled Superflex Jersey that’s integrated with Circlo fibers to reduce microplastic pollution ending up in the ocean and landfills. Much better, this brand also uses water-based adhesives to conserve water.
This wetsuit is a league of its own. Among the ones in this lineup, this one breaks down without a trace or decomposes once it ends up in a landfill. It’s also stretchier than any of the Patagonia wetsuits. Pretty impressive, isn’t it?
Furnace Natural is Billabong’s most high-performance wetsuit. Its fully-lined front and back panels with Airlite Superflex allow ease of movement and flexibility, it’s also smooth to the skin with its seamless stitching. Meanwhile, its zipperless entry enables you to easily get into the wetsuit effortlessly.
Stitched with graphene-infused yarns with 100% recycled fibers, the Furnace wetsuit is claimed to provide insulation and warmth; however, it’s not the warmest wetsuit out there. On average, it can only handle water temperatures ranging from 55 to 65°F.
Price-wise, Furnace Natural wetsuit leans more on the expensive spectrum; however, it’s a price we’re all willing to pay for its high-quality performance and eco-friendly features.
|More comfortable to wear than wetsuits made of neoprene||Some people find the zipperless entry inconvenient|
|Stretchier than the leading brand of eco wetsuits||Not the toastiest wetsuit|
|Excellent value for money|
How Brands Create Sustainable Wetsuits
Wetsuit manufacturers today are trying different ways to create sustainable and eco-friendly surfing gear. Surfers care about their environmental impact, that’s why brands adapt and make necessary changes to create eco-friendly and neoprene-free products that help reduce carbon emissions.
Some ditch petroleum-based neoprene fabric for natural rubber, while others make use of water-based adhesive and eco-carbon dyes for their pigments. Some companies recycle wetsuits to create new ones, and more brands are also starting to use patterns to lessen waste.
With the advanced manufacturing technologies today, brands can now maintain the high quality of their wetsuits, while preserving the environment.
When it comes to the biggest shifts in the wetsuit industry, perhaps the company known as Patagonia has the most breakthrough with their innovative Yulex fabric, a natural rubber that came from the hevea trees in Sri Lanka. Because these trees can produce rubber sap for 30 years, Yulex doesn’t contribute to deforestation.
Yulex is the main component in creating flexible and warm wetsuits of many brands today. This 100% plant-based rubber is naturally grown and harvested with minimal mechanism, therefore, reducing carbon footprint with its zero-waste production by 80%.
The only downside of this fabric is its higher cost compared to its predecessors. But if it’s for the good of the environment, then it’s well worth your investment.
Wetsuit manufacturers have been using toxic glues for the longest time to laminate the lining onto the neoprene fabric before they’re made into wetsuits. But because these kinds of substances pollute the water, brands have opted in using water-based adhesives instead.
By omitting the use of harmful solvents, water-based glue saves up to 600 grams of harmful toxins used in producing a single wetsuit. Even if it’s water-based, it won’t wash down with water, and it’s comparably stronger than the traditional glues used before. It also has less odor than the chemical adhesives.
Eco-Carbon Black/ Dope Dye Yarns
Most wetsuits are black because this color provides UV protection and keeps you warmer than the other colors, but did you know that raw neoprene is originally yellow? For this reason, producers use dyes to alter their wetsuits’ color, but in the process, they waste so much water and cause pollution in the seas and oceans.
To avoid this, some eco-friendly wetsuit brands use Dope Dye technology wherein the yarns are dyed before making them into wetsuits. This process saves water by 89% to 100%.
Aside from Dope Dye, there’s also Eco-Carbon Black that utilizes tire pyrolysis technology to produce black color from recycled scrap rubber tires. This production reduces energy use, as well as carbon dioxide emissions.
In the effort to reduce waste from wetsuit cut-offs, wetsuit designers of different brands developed their own patterns to allow them to cut a wetsuit in a single panel. This lessens the amount of material and fabric used, therefore creating less waste.
Some companies also make use of recycled PET bottles for their wetsuit linings as a way to recycle non-biodegradable garbage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are eco-friendly wetsuits made of?
Environmentally friendly wetsuits are made from renewable and biodegradable sources. Yulex is a plant-based material made from natural rubber that is sourced from the sap of hevea trees in Sri Lanka and Guatemala. Aside from Yulex, ‘green’ wetsuits also make use of water-based glues and recycled carbon dyes to reduce carbon footprint and water pollution.
Q: What is the ‘greenest’ wetsuit?
Using a recycled or a used wetsuit is the greenest option, but if you’re looking for a new one, you can go for any of these eco-friendly brands: Patagonia, Vissla Eco Seas, Picture, Billabong, and Xcel. Choosing high-quality wetsuits also matters, as they last longer and are far more durable; therefore you don’t have to purchase new ones every now and then.
Don’t know what to do with your old wetsuits? Check out this cool article here.
Q: What is Yamamoto neoprene and is it eco-friendly?
Japan, one of the leading sources of limestones in the world, manufactures Yamamoto, a premium neoprene material used for making wetsuits. This fabric is processed by turning the limestones into chloroprene rubber chips, melting them into foam, and then filling the fabric with air bubbles for insulation. It’s lighter and drier than petroleum-based neoprene; however, it is not as stretchable and flexible.
Yamamoto is claimed to be an eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-based neoprene. However, limestone is a non-renewable source, and research shows that excavating and mining for this mineral is damaging to the environment. Aside from that, the manufacturing process of turning limestone into a fabric produces as much carbon dioxide emissions as its predecessor.