First developed in the 1930s by Dupont, neoprene is a synthetic rubber. It’s produced by combining melted polychloroprene chips, foaming agents and pigments and baking the mixture together to form a thick sponge. Traditionally, petroleum products were used to make the polychloroprene chips. Therefore, manufacturing the material called for drilling for, harvesting, transporting and consuming oil, a nonrenewable resource. Clearly, doing so carries an environmental cost.
Oil is a finite resource, and mining, processing and transporting it is energy-intensive and potentially hazardous. Limestone is also a finite resource. However, there’s much more of it, and harvesting it has a smaller impact on the environment. It’s been used for countless purposes for centuries, and now, Japan’s Yamamoto Corporation has perfected the art of making neoprene from limestone. Instead of using a petroleum product to make the polychloroprene chips that are the key ingredient in neoprene, Yamamoto uses the calcium carbonate found in limestone. It’s a change that results in a greener neoprene and offers significant benefits for both the environment and wetsuit users:
- Reduced environmental impact:
Mining limestone may take a toll on the environment, but it’s a smaller price than the one required for oil. Likewise, creating polychloroprene chips from limestone requires less energy than crafting them from oil products. Plus, Yamamoto takes care to choose eco-friendly methods of power generation.
- A warmer material:
Limestone neoprene’s high microcell structure means that the material is packed with tiny air bubbles formed by closed cells. In fact, it has about 30% more of these bubbles than other rubber materials. This produces several advantages, including a warmer material. Matching the warmth delivered by a 2 mm sheet of limestone neoprene requires a 3 mm sheet of oil-based limestone. Wearers get more warmth from less, and less raw material is needed to achieve that end.
- Improved impermeability:
Neoprene absorbs some water, but the tiny air bubbles inside the material don’t. Since neoprene crafted from limestone has more air bubbles, it absorbs less water. That keeps wetsuits made from this material lighter and more comfortable.
- A longer lifespan:
The tiny microcells in oil-based neoprene are connected. In limestone-based neoprene, they’re independent. The result is a more durable material that is less likely to tear and capable of spreading pressure, stretch and stress across its structure. To put it simply, neoprene wetsuits crafted from limestone tend to last longer. This delivers better value to consumers, keeps the wetsuits out of landfills for longer periods and reduces the need to create new neoprene.
A Greener Future?
Ultimately, it’s fairly easy to make a convincing argument that neoprene crafted from limestone is greener than neoprene made from oil. However, claiming that it’s an eco-friendly material isn’t really accurate. Fortunately for the planet and those concerned about protecting it, the surfing industry is still striving for a neoprene that is truly environmentally friendly.
Innovators, manufacturers and designers are continuing to push for a green neoprene. Neogreene, a material that reportedly used 25% less electricity and 25% less petroleum than traditional neoprene, received a lot of attention when it was announced in the 2000s. While the company behind it vanished before the material reached the consumer market, the splash it made demonstrated that there was strong interest in eco-friendly neoprene.
New developments continue to shape the next generation of wetsuits. Patagonia replaced its neoprene wetsuits with suits crafted from Yulex. This product is formed from natural rubber tapped from hevea trees. While growing and harvesting rubber can take a hefty environmental toll, the materials used for Yulex are sourced from growers who follow sustainable practices and preserve ecological integrity and biodiversity. Others are working to develop new technologies and improve the adhesives and chemicals used when assembling and sealing the wetsuits.
At Platinum Sun, we delight in sharing our love of the water, water sports and the kind of amazing gear that makes a fantastic day at the beach even better. We’re passionate about creating unique, creative designs that deliver comfort and protection whether you’re playing hard on the water, exploring beneath the waves or savoring a quiet moment along the shoreline. We’re proud to offer a range of wetsuits, neoprene jackets, rash guards, leggings, sports bras, shorts and accessories that make looking amazing and feeling great while having fun on the water easy. If you’re hunting for gear for you next adventure, be sure to check out our selection.