A Knowledge Transfer Programme between Finisterre and the University of Exeter’s Centre for Alternative Materials and Remanufacturing are investigating remanufacturing and circular economy initiatives which address the problem of discarded wetsuits.
Full-time Wetsuit Recycler Jenny Banks gives us an update about what the programme has been up to.
This blog first appeared on Finisterre’s THE BROADCAST.
We’re now three months into the Wetsuits From Wetsuits Programme and have learnt an incredible amount about the potential recyclability of our own Nieuwland winter wetsuit. Our committed wetsuit tester community have been a huge help in providing us with some of our Original Tester suits back from 2014, allowing us to compare the performance of old suits that have had real-lives, with that of a new suit.
It actually wasn’t as easy as we thought it might be to get our original tester wetsuits back as nearly all of them are still going strong – which is of course fantastic news! Most wetsuits last around two years before they’re replaced so we’re really happy that our Nieuwland suit is still delivering!
WHERE YOU’LL FIND ME
Splitting my time between Exeter and Finisterre HQ provides me with the perfect balance of influences. Over the last two months in Exeter, I haven’t left the lab. From microscopic surface imaging to tensile (elasticity) and thermal testing, we’re building a vital understanding of how and where the Nieuwland wetsuit changes during its life.
When I’m at Finisterre, all that testing is put into context. Being at the Wheal Kitty workshops – by the sea and amongst the team – reminds me of the real needs of cold-water surfers and ensures that I’m not tackling this challenge inside a bubble. Everyone here is really engaged with the programme and the energy within the team keeps me going if I ever feel over-whelmed by the challenge that lies in front of us.
OUR UNDERSTANDINGS SO FAR
De-constructing the Nieuwland was our first step towards understanding what difficulties we may face when making the world’s first fully recyclable wetsuit.
WETSUITS ARE VERY COMPLEX: ONE SINGLE NIEUWLAND WETSUIT IS MADE UP OF FIVE DIFFERENT TYPES OF NEOPRENE FOAM FOR STRETCH, FIVE DIFFERENT THICKNESSES OF NEOPRENE FOR WARMTH AND FIVE DIFFERENT COMBINATIONS OF FABRICS FOR DURABILITY AND COMFORT.
That complexity potentially poses a challenge for us in terms of wetsuit recycling but it’s not a question of just simplifying the suit – why would we change a wetsuit that we know performs so well?
Thus far, we’ve had some surprising results in the lab. Under the microscope, we can see the difference between our original tester suits and our new suit very clearly. Three years of frigid waters and regular surfing causes the neoprene’s cells to start to buckle (see first image). This change in our neoprene’s cell structure, however, is having next to no effect on the flexibility of our suit, which we really didn’t expect. We will be continuing our testing to verify this but this finding is promising and means we may be able to recycle our neoprene rubber without needing expensive and energy-consuming re-processing techniques.
Now we’re working on finding out whether that same cell structure change is affecting the Nieuwland’s thermal properties.
We want to deliver the world’s first recyclable wetsuit for testing in Autumn this year. Progress is good and we’re now moving into the design phase of the programme. Right now, no idea is a bad idea. We’re being very open-minded and exploring ideas that are far-out as well as those that involve simple, minor tweaks to our current Nieuwland suit. Watch this space! #wetsuitsfromwetsuits