“As the ‘ultimate surf company’, this expansion will assist more of our customer’s journey [towards] reducing their environmental impact and we are stoked to support in doing just that.”
The brand first started taking back old wetsuits at its flagship store in Torquay, Victoria, in 2018. Since then, it has expanded the program to 27 stores nationwide and taken back more than 2500 wetsuits, or the equivalent of around three tonnes of neoprene.
“In the beginning, we weren’t sure how many surfers would engage in the program, however, it has proven successful with some customers driving several kilometres to hand back their suits in-store or paying large postage fees to get them back to us,” O’Laughlin said.
She noted that the program represents a significant investment for Rip Curl in terms of both time and money.
“We are doing this as a commitment to embedding more circular concepts into our brand and operations,” she said.
Solving the problem of wetsuit waste
The global wetsuit market is currently valued at more than US$3.5 billion and expected to reach US$4.6 billion by 2028. But while this growth is good for surf brands like Rip Curl, it represents a significant problem for the environment.
Wetsuits tend to wear out after around two years of regular use, and because they’re typically made out of neoprene, a type of synthetic rubber that can’t be broken down and recycled like other plastics, there’s no easy way to dispose of old suits responsibly.
“They either end up in opportunity shops or piled up in a cupboard in people’s garages as they don’t know what to do with them, and eventually in the general waste bin then landfill,” O’Laughlin said.
Some smaller brands, including Sydney-based Project Blank and British brand Finisterre, are trying to solve this problem by making wetsuits out of alternative materials, such as Yulex, a plant-based foam rubber that is biodegradable.
But for the majority of wetsuits that are still made out of neoprene, takeback schemes may be the best option.
Under Rip Curl’s program, customers can drop off their old wetsuits at participating stores, or send them via post to the brand’s head office in Torquay. Once the company has collected 20 pallets’ worth of wetsuits, it sends them to TerraCycle’s warehouse, where any zips, elastic pulls and metal tags are removed by hand. They are then sent to a processor for crumbing, before ultimately being repurposed into soft-fall matting.
Rip Curl covers all the costs associated with the recycling process and accepts any brand of wetsuit, not just its own products. The expansion of the program comes in response to consumer growing demand.
“We are seeing more demand for an increase in sustainable product offerings and programs,” O’Laughlin said.
“Providing services to repair damaged suits has always been a priority and now with the expansion of the takeback program to 27 stores across Australia, we feel we are supporting our customers even further.”