Pioneering project launched to recycle Cornwall’s mountain of discarded wetsuits

The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Good Growth Programme has enabled The Wave Project and waste-management company SUEZ to launch a pioneering scheme to recycle Cornwall’s mountain of discarded wetsuits.

The innovative project aims to tackle the estimated 380 tonnes of non-recyclable neoprene generated each year.

With over 50 per cent of this waste originating in Cornwall, the county has become a wetsuit graveyard.

The Wetsuit Reuse Scheme has received £116,000 from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Good Growth Programme, a £137m local investment fund managed by Cornwall Council and funded by the UK Government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

Support for local organisations is a key plank of the investment programme which encourages green and socially responsible enterprise.

Under the scheme, dedicated wetsuit recycling bins are placed at Cornwall Council household waste recycling centres, managed by SUEZ.

The discarded suits are collected and transported to a brand-new repair workshop in Newquay. Here, a team will clean, and if necessary, mend the wetsuits for resale at the charity’s high street store.

Prices range from £20 – £60 – a fraction of the average £420 cost for a new wetsuit. Any wetsuits beyond repair will be upcycled into new products like bags, pillows and mats.

The pre-loved wetsuit scheme follows increasing urgency around solving the environmental crisis caused by fast fashion and throwaway culture. With clothing and textiles estimated to account for up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, initiatives like this offer a blueprint for a more circular economy for specialist gear like wetsuits.

If successful, The Wave Project and SUEZ hope to roll out similar programmes nationwide, preventing tonnes of non-recyclable waste from ending up in landfill or polluting the oceans.

All profits will fund the charity’s programmes. Surf therapy especially has become an established and evidence-based form of therapeutic support for both mental and physical health.

Ramon Van de Velde, chief executive at The Wave Project, said: “The Wave Project improves the health and wellbeing of children throughout the UK with surf therapy and the healing powers of the ocean. This pre-loved wetsuit scheme not only raises vital funds to enable the charity to help more children. It also makes the sea more accessible to people who can’t otherwise afford wetsuits, and of course importantly takes neoprene out of the waste-cycle. This really is a win-win-win. We are really grateful to the government’s Good Growth Fund and SUEZ for providing the funding to kick-start this project. If the Cornwall pilot proves successful, we hope to roll it out nationwide.”

Craig Mouatt, Processing Contract Manager for SUEZ recycling and recovery UK in Cornwall said: “We’re delighted to be continuing our partnership with The Wave Project to support young people in Cornwall. As a triple bottom line business we are always looking for innovative ways to protect the planet whilst supporting the communities we serve, and through this initiative we can help raise funds to support the important work The Wave Project does whilst enhancing and protecting the environment. We look forward to continuing our relationship with The Wave Project to transform lives through surf therapy.”

The pilot project has been made possible thanks to £116,000 from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Good Growth Programme, £22,500 from SUEZ and £7,500 from The Wave Project.