- By Claire Marshall and Malcolm Before
- BBC News Climate and Science
A top UK surfer has criticized her sport for relying on mass-produced boards and wetsuits from petrochemicals that generate tons of waste every year.
Seven-time British women’s champion Lucy Campbell told the BBC that leading brands “need to change”.
Despite the eco-friendly image of surfing, it uses toxic plastic-coated sheets and a non-biodegradable wetsuit.
The industry says it is developing new sustainable boards and the world’s first fully recycled wetsuit.
Ms. Campbell said she will now only partner with or accept sponsorships from brands with a clear sustainability ethos.
“It’s often hard to turn down a high-paying check, if they’re an unsustainable brand, but it’s definitely worth more in the long run,” she said.
She said there are already examples of how brands can be more sustainable and how they can have less impact on the environment.
“I think they need to take responsibility and make a difference. It may cost more but I think eventually that price will drop as technology advances.”
Historically, surfing has carried the image of a suitable sport and lifestyle, while protecting the oceans and the environment.
But environmental campaigners say the production and export of polystyrene and polyurethane panels and neoprene swimwear comes with significant carbon emissions.
A long-standing studyy estimates that the production of traditional polyurethane boards, coated with epoxy resin and exported globally, can generate up to 250kg of carbon dioxide equivalent.
Meanwhile, taking into account the international travel needed to enjoy the best waves, the average surfer’s carbon footprint is said to be 50% larger than the average person.
Lucy Campbell herself will compete this month in the Olympic qualifying championships in El Salvador. She tries to offset the carbon cost of her travel, adding: “You want to encourage people to get outdoors but at the same time at what cost to the planet?”
It is also estimated that more than 8,000 tons of neoprene swimsuits end up in landfills each year.
The industry body The Surfing Industry Members Association said it was proud of the environmental progress made and businesses had donated up to $80m (£64m) to the industry. of environmental organisations.
Vipe Desai, the association’s executive director, said businesses are “working together to address the environmental impacts of the products the industry produces. This effort has been and continues to be. Driven by consumers asking surf brands to do more.”
Greener surfboards and diving gear
The industry is developing new surfboards made from recycled materials or natural fibers – even mushrooms – and wetsuits made from natural rubber sourced from sustainable plantations.
In the UK, surf company Finisterre is developing a wetsuit made from recycled neoprene suits, which the company says will be a world first. It collected nearly 1,000 old clothes to create a recycled rubber they are currently testing.
Tom Kay, the company’s founder, says many brands have to invest in developing new ideas.
“At least, some of the press coverage of neoprene’s toxicity is horrendous, so if you know that why don’t you change?” he say.
It says cheap mass-produced planks can release thousands of tiny polystyrene balls into the environment when they break, posing a danger to wildlife.
Project manager Neil Hembrow said the number of tables dumped was “unsuccessful”.
But the industry says it’s working on becoming more sustainable and educating surfers on how they can make their boards last longer.
Mark Dale, marketing director of Agit Global, an American company that makes mass-produced Wavestorm boards in Taiwan, says their boards are not designed to be thrown away after a few uses.
He told the BBC: “The misconception about Wavestorm is that we’re making this mass of boards for landfill, but you can use Wavestorm boards for years. We don’t build boards as used boards. here once.”
He added that their manufacturing process has been independently audited and that each plank produced produces only the equivalent of 24kg of carbon dioxide emissions.
Dr Greg Borne, a social scientist at Plymouth Marjon University, said he was hopeful about the industry’s efforts to tackle its environmental impact.
“It’s a business and they’re making a profit but now they’re making a profit in a way that’s starting to look at sustainability factors,” he said.