Overall, I would argue that Nineplus wetsuits are, overall, more sustainable than a traditional oil-based wetsuit. If I were to research further into the production process of the limestone-based wetsuit, I would look into the extraction and mining process for limestone to examine the labor practices and justice concerns. If you are trying to purchase the most sustainable option, I would recommend considering Patagonia’s Yulex wetsuit, but moving away from the oil-based wetsuit and investing in a limestone-based wetsuit, which will inevitably last longer and reduce our dependence on petroleum, is a step up from a traditional wetsuit. In order to gauge more accurately the sustainability of the Yamamoto neoprene wetsuits sold by Nineplus, there should be increased transparency in the production and distribution processes on their website. After researching the three different materials of wetsuits, I have concluded that for the surfer wanting to be the most eco-friendly and get the best bang for their buck, the Yulex Patagonia wetsuits are well-made, durable, long-lasting, and sustainably made.
The Yamamoto Front Zip 4/3 mm wetsuit is made primarily from Yamamoto #39 Japanese neoprene, but also incorporates rubber taped seams on the ankles, wrists, and knees; zirconium thermal polypropylene in the core lining; and nylon in the seat area. Because neoprene is the primary material used, I focused my research on the Yamamoto neoprene. As opposed to traditional neoprene, which is derived from petroleum, all Nineplus wetsuits are made exclusively using Yamamoto neoprene, which is derived from limestone and is the most sustainable neoprene option. The limestone used is taken from the mountains in Japan, and there is estimated to be enough reserves to last for another 3000 years. The wetsuits sold by Nineplus are impermeable to water, more lightweight, warmer, more durable, and stretchier than oil-based wetsuits due to the independent closed cells and hydrophobic exterior. The other materials used are nylon, a plastic, and zirconium thermal polypropylene, another plastic. The two alternatives to a limestone-based wetsuit are oil-based wetsuits and Yulex wetsuits. The most sustainable option for buying a wetsuit is Yulex, pioneered by Patagonia, which is a 100% plant-based natural rubber, has a zero-waste production process, and emits 80% fewer carbon dioxide emissions than neoprene. Neoprene, both oil- and limestone-based, will not biodegrade, which means that at the end of life, they will most likely end up in landfills. A 4.5/3.5 mm front zip Yulex wetsuit from Patagonia (a comparable style) is $489, which is more expensive than either of the neoprene wetsuits. Surprisingly, the 4/3 mm front zip Nineplus limestone-based wetsuit is $399, as compared to oil-based 4/3 mm front zip Ripcurl wetsuit, which is $419.95. Thus, the limestone-based wetsuit, arguably a more sustainable option, is actually more affordable and of better quality.
In the production process, Nineplus claims that the heat used for processing and producing raw materials is only 10% of that used for refining petroleum that is used for traditional oil-based wetsuits. Hydropower generated from water turbines powered from mountain streams provides electricity to the factories, and the heat that is generated comes from burning used car tires. The utilization of hydroelectric power minimizes greenhouse gases, and the heat is then recycled and used to nurse and farm eels, which is a huge source of food in Japan. Nineplus claims that the production of their limestone-based neoprene is environmentally clean relative to the way that traditional wetsuits are made, so if it is actually environmentally friendly or just better than the norm is debatable. In the production process, the car tires that are used to provide the heat in the production process are recycled and bonded to limestone to create the neoprene sheets. Nineplus further discusses their production process, telling the consumer that they use special machines and specialists to stitch the single-lined smooth skin wetsuits.
Because the website does not give any further information regarding the production process, I did some research into the limestone-based neoprene production process. The main steps are ingredient extraction, which is dependent on diesel powered equipment to mine it; production of polychloroprene, which Yamamoto (the main producer of this neoprene) argues is an eco-friendly process because of their alternative energy source; baking and slicing the neoprene; and laminating it with nylon.
Nineplus wetsuits are made to last longer than traditional oil-based wetsuits. There are blind-stitched seams throughout as well as having Japanese glue seals. The suits can stretch to its maximum over 2000 times and will return to its original shape, whereas oil-based neoprene will only stretch about 300 times, more quickly losing its shape. Therefore, using limestone-baed neoprene will reduce the turnover rate of wetsuits, keeping them out of landfills. In addition, the 2mm limestone neoprene is as warm as a typical 3mm wetsuit, meaning that less material needs to be used per wetsuit.
The Yamamoto Front Zip 4/3 mm wetsuit is Nineplus’s “most technologically advanced wetsuit with over 4 years of research and development and countless hours of testing,” according to the product description. The Nineplus brand was started in 1996 in the UK by Richard Balding, an avid longboard surfer who dropped out of school at 16 and spent his remaining teenage years surfing all over the world. He was only 19 when he founded the company. This brand was truly started in his garage, with Richard and other young adults in Cornwall, UK folding and packaging orders as they came in. There are currently three companies, Nineplus Inc., based in California, Nineplus Pty Ltd, based in Australia, and Nineplus Ltd, based in the UK. The Nineplus brand succeeded largely due to their relationship with Japanese based ‘Yamamoto Neoprene,’ which created a unique product with a growing demand. The Nineplus brand keeps environmental sustainability, top notch customer service, and social justice in mind in their business practices. For example, in 2010, there was a batch of wetsuits that were glued incorrectly, so the company took back every damaged wetsuit and replaced or repaired them. They reported that this endeavor almost made them bankrupt, but ensuring that customers had a high-performing, properly made wetsuit was their top priority. In addition, the company has a discount store for last season’s wetsuits that did not sell so that the products are not wasted but can be put to use as well as a “Brand New Wetsuits Without Tags” store so that unpackaged wetsuits stored in their warehouses can be sold. Nineplus also participates in charitable efforts, such as “#thewarmclub,” charity #1167062, which designs and produces waterproof, air-mattress sleeping bags for homeless individuals, and their contributions to “First Fruits,” which supports the ‘support a child orphan’ organization in India and other charities. From Richard’s LinkedIn profile, I gathered that the brand operates via online, wholesale, retail, and distribution with global leading suppliers, but on their webpages, there is no information on labor practices, manufacturing plant locations, distribution practices, or packaging. In addition, there is very little context given for most of the statements regarding charitable work and environmental sustainability.