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Sustainable insulation

Making a sustainable wetsuit choice protects both the wearer and the environment.

The rise in wild swimming, freediving and water sports in general means it’s likely it won’t be just a Cornish seal you will see bobbing around in the water on your next cliff walk. The health benefits of cold water immersion and being in the sea are expounded across social media channels daily. From the hardened Cornish surfers and divers who have been donning a wetsuit and jumping into the ocean for decades, to the new breed of ocean adventures, there is now a movement towards a more sustainable product for keeping warm.

Fourth Element, based in Helston and makers of gear for underwater adventures, continually strive to find the best materials and processes to create products that are better for the environment, whilst maintaining their performance. Traditionally, neoprene is used for thermal insulation in the water as it creates an impermeable barrier, heating a thin layer of water trapped between your skin and the suit. It’s made up of a foamed synthetic rubber compound, called polymer polychloroprene – a mixture of carbon black, neoprene chips and other key ingredients create the raw neoprene sheets. These are exposed to high pressure and heat to create ‘foamed rubber buns’ which are then sliced to thickness and laminated.

With sustainability in mind, fourth element uses neoprene chips from limestone neoprene, rather than traditional neoprene and recycled scrap rubber tyres to create an ‘eco carbon black’ with estimates that CO2 emissions are cut by 72% as a result of these combined alternatives. So, what impact does this have on the wearer other than sustainability? Well, there is the additional benefit from limestone neoprene, in that the actual material produced is of a higher quality. Due to the high micro-cell structure of limestone neoprene, there are more bubbles inside the rubber. This means better insulation, better stretch and increased durability, which ultimately means the suits need to be produced at a lower rate.

Fourth Element’s new Surface Suit from the OceanPositive range, goes one step further. Made from Yulex Pure™, an FSC® Certified, ultra-pure natural rubber made in the USA, the plants are grown with natural irrigation systems and the materials are processed with recycled water. Even the waste plant material after the rubber extraction process is used as biomass fuel for electricity generation. Yulex™ is sustainably grown and harvested, helping protect the social and economic wellbeing of forest dependent communities.

Alongside this, the lining fabrics are created from ocean-bound plastic bottles, recycled and spun into a soft polyester yarn. Water-based glues are used to bond the foam to the fabrics and prints are embossed with water-based inks to ensure every care has been taken to minimise the environmental impact of the product. This begs the question, with such excellent eco-credentials, why aren’t all of fourth element’s wetsuits made from Yulex? One of the main obstacles is price; Yulex is comparably much more expensive to manufacture than limestone neoprene resulting in a higher priced product. The importance of accessibility to the sport of diving and other water pursuits his high on fourth element’s agenda, hence the offering of regular neoprene as well.

For those looking for neutral-buoyancy, fourth element’s Thermocline wetsuits aren’t made from rubber at all. The face is ECONYL®, a recycled nylon that regenerates ghost fishing nets and other waste, so reducing pollution in the oceans and waste in landfill. The ECONYL® is laminated to a fleece backing made from a combination of polyester and elastane, producing a suit with the equivalent warmth of 2mm neoprene in warmer waters and one ideal for those who suffer from neoprene allergies.

The Thermocline range is also machine-washable, dries within an hour or two of immersion and has an incredibly small pack size.

So, whatever ocean adventure you’re looking to undertake this year, it’s well worth looking into the options available and making a more positive choice for yourself and the environment.


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