Recycled neoprene project

WavErest has developed an innovative and circular mechanical recycling process that recycles used wetsuits. From the recycled wetsuits they create a new material that can be cut in a variety of thicknesses. In 2021, WavErest received approval for their project, “Neoprene recycling for circular economy: The WavErest method”, through EEA and Norway Grants from Innovation Norway. In conjunction with the project, Pivot joined as a project partner. We contributed with 1) Material analysis of recycled neoprene, 2) Branding proposal of their brand RAW - including logo and palette, 3) An investigation of product groups that can benefit from the use of recycled neoprene, and 4) Concept design of two products: Yoga mat and sound absorbing roof panels.

According to WavErest, neoprene is one of the materials with the least organized collection for recycling after the end of its life cycle. And tons of wetsuits are thrown away every year, consisting of thick neoprene layers. To this, WavErest are finding a long-term solution to ensure a more adequate and sustainable use of neoprene. WavErest offer a circular solution, meaning that wetsuits, other neoprene products and even manufacturing off cuts from their own cut and sew facility are turned into new material through the recycling process. The recycling process is also suitable for biodegradable materials as a resource for producing new material, a more eco-friendly alternative to standard neoprene. 

Coating or choosing not to coat the recycled neoprene affects what products that the recycled neoprene is adequate for. Products that have a high level of interaction (that users touch and interact with directly and regularly), require coating due to possible tearing. The recycled neoprene can be laminated with a variety of materials, however using sustainable laminating and/or coating is fundamental. As part of the material analysis, we therefore collaborated with WavErest finding sustainable and suitable coating alternatives. Further we analyzed qualities of different coating techniques. 

The wetsuits are cut up into small pieces/particles, bound together and then pressed into large blocks, which are then cut to the desired thickness. This makes a yoga mat a good fit for recycled neoprene. As mentioned, yoga mat of recycled neoprene requires lamination and/or coating. We considered and compared different types of yoga while looking at the different coating solutions.

Neoprene has sound absorbing qualities when its surface is not coated. However, when the neoprene is uncoated, it is beneficial for its life span not to be in frequent contact with users’ touch. Ceiling mounted sound absorbing panels use the material’s characteristics, does not entail close contact with users, and can be produced in sheets and large quantities. Other aspects like thickness, stiffness and aesthetics did also influence our suggestion of sound absorbing panels as product direction for recycled neoprene.