Is Neoprene Bad for the Environment? Sustainability Problems Revealed

October 12, 2022



Women diving in the ocean

If you’re on a journey of living a more sustainable, environmentally friendly lifestyle, you’re probably discovering that many of the products you used were impacting the ecosystem in ways you had never realized. There are so many products and materials we use daily without realizing the effect they have, and one of those is neoprene.

Why is neoprene bad for the environment and what can you do to reduce your ecological footprint? Let’s look at neoprene at each stage of its life cycle and how it impacts the planet.

Understanding Neoprene

Neoprene is a synthetic rubber material that is also called polychloroprene. It’s most often used in specialized types of garments like wetsuits and certain protective garments, but it’s also used in a variety of fabrics, particularly for athleticwear and swimwear.

Neoprene was first developed in 1930 by the prominent chemical engineering company DuPont. Since then, it has been used in a wide range of industries. Until more recently, though, its environmental impact was rarely discussed. It is now clear that neoprene is not sustainable, and even further, it creates environmental problems at each stage of its life cycle: production, use, and disposal.

Is Neoprene Sustainable to Produce?

Neoprene production is a non-sustainable, environmentally hazardous process in multiple ways. To start, nearly all neoprene is created using petroleum, which is a non-renewable and quickly depleting resource.

To produce neoprene, manufacturers extract chemicals from the petroleum and perform high-energy processing that creates the polymers that form neoprene. The energy used in this process emits CO2 into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change.

Notice, though, that we mentioned that “most” neoprene is made from petroleum. More recently, some manufacturers started creating neoprene using limestone. Unfortunately, limestone neoprene isn’t sustainable either due to the limestone mining process and the fact that limestone, like petroleum, is a non-renewable resource.

Is Neoprene Environmentally Friendly to Discard?

Sadly, even at the end of its life, a neoprene product continues to have a damaging effect on the environment. Because of the artificial polymers in neoprene, the material is non-biodegradable and non-compostable. It ends up in landfills where it takes hundreds of years to decompose, adding to the problem of  pollution.

Can you make neoprene less ecologically harmful by recycling it? Unfortunately, no. Some fabrics and plastics are recyclable, but neoprene cannot be recycled but only downcycled into products considered less useful.

How to Fix the Problem of Neoprene Sustainability

Now that we’ve covered the gloomy business of neoprene’s non-sustainability and environmental impact, let’s look for the sunlight. Good news: there is a way to have all the products you love without impacting the planet.

Yulex is proud to offer a neoprene alternative. As a pioneer in natural and plant-based rubber materials, we developed unique foam rubber materials that mimic all the best qualities of neoprene without the ecological damage.

Yulex materials are prominently used in neoprene-free Patagonia wetsuits, as well as our Yulex Closed-Cell Foam sheets for more breathable needs. In the meantime, give yourself a “thank you” from your future self for taking positive steps for the environment.

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