ZONE3 biodegradable wetsuit
EXTRA,  FEATURES,  February 2024,  GEAR,  NEWS

Biodegradable wetsuits are here!

An industry first, ZONE3 are launching a biodegradable wetsuit – and it won’t disappear as you swim! Ella Foote meets the team behind the new suit. 

Wetsuits are designed and made of materials that are, by nature, to be hard-wearing, durable and long-lasting. As an investment piece of kit, they are made of materials that don’t tear easily or break-down over time, but the flip-side of this is that they are hard to recycle and will never disappear in landfill. In fact, neoprene is so robust that it is often used to line landfill sites to protect the ground from contamination. 

There are lots of brilliant examples in the industry of repairing wetsuits or remaking suits into other items, like change-mats. Many brands now offer swimwear and suits in Yulex®, made from the rubber tree Hevea. Yulex foam is also Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)* and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) approved. But this still comes with environmental impact as a spike in demand Hevea could lead to deforestation as existing trees are replaced with the latest cash-crop. So how can we solve the environmental impact of wetsuits? ZONE3 has the answer and it’s the first of its kind – Terraprene – a cutting-edge biodegradable rubber which, once it reaches its end of life, can be biodegraded in 522 days. The new material, developed by Yamamoto, offers the same performance as standard neoprene.

An exciting new development

“As swimmers and triathletes, we really care about the environment we work and play in,” says Xander Brice, ZONE3 Brand and Partnerships Manager. “This new wetsuit is the first step in a bigger plan to ensure all our products offered as standard also happen to be renewable, recyclable or biodegradable.”

ZONE3 has been operating with sustainable products and environmentally-friendly production for many years. Their range already includes Yulex wetsuits and swimsuits made from recycled plastic bottles, and their eco friendly packaging dissolves in hot water. ZONE3 also work with Circular Flow, who offer sustainable global circular economy for neoprene waste. The new Terraprene wetsuit is an exciting first for ZONE3 and the industry. 

ZONE3 biodegradable wetsuit

“This isn’t a gimmick or a sustainability tick-box,” says Xander. “This is a performance suit – it isn’t just biodegradable, it is a seriously good suit.”

The design team took a well-loved, brilliantly performing existing wetsuit design and committed to making it with the new Terraprene technology. “We have done vigorous fit testing,” says Charlie Bardsley, Product Designer. “Our vision is that if our customers are going to upgrade to this suit, we want them to put it on and it to feel as comfortable as an old pair of shoes. Using a new material means learning and initially we had issues like it being a bit too tight around the arms. Now the ultra-stretch material allows for a maximum range of motion, providing you with the freedom to move unrestricted and perform at your best. It is perfect for beginners, experienced swimmers and those looking to upgrade to a higher performance, or more flexible wetsuit.” 

Friendly on the wallet?

This all sounds great, but also sounds expensive. So, what is the price point? “It is just £50 more than the same suit in our old material,” says Xander. “It will retail at £399 and we will be taking a bit of a hit our end as far as margins go, but we want people to understand we are serious about making sustainability a core pillar of what we stand for. This isn’t about charging more; we are not doing it for our gain but because we think this is the way we think the industry should be going. We want to make our sports more sustainable for future generations and aim to be leaders in developing products that are designed with people and planet in mind.” 

“The goal is to have more of our suits made from this new material,” says Charlie. “We are already exploring with a couple of our other designs. Terraprene is more expensive to use than traditional neoprene, but we hope that the more people want it and the more products developed with it will make the costs more accessible.”  

Proof is in the pudding

As with many new products that come to market with impressive headlines, we want to know what the performance, lifecycle and how biodegradable it is!

“We know that in the first 522 days, the Terraprene material biodegrades by 30%, and it will continue to break down under the correct conditions,” says Charlie. “Another great thing about Terraprene is that it won’t biodegrade at all during normal swimming or storage conditions, you certainly won’t be walking out of the lake and wondering where your wetsuit is!”

So, is it only biodegradable in a fancy processing plant? “The right conditions needed to biodegrade are those you find naturally in landfill,” says Xander. “While the zip and the lining aren’t yet biodegradable, we’re encouraging Zone3 customers to return their suits to us at the end of their swim life cycle.” Zone3 will remove the zip and lining, recycle them, and send the rest of the suit off to biodegrade.

ZONE3 biodegradable wetsuit

“We’re working hard to find a biodegradable solution for the lining in the future, but currently there isn’t a material available that meets our requirements without sacrificing performance. Watch this space!

“We are in the early stages of our sustainability journey and this is a great leap in the right direction for the industry. The fact that we have a performance focused wetsuit that can biodegrade at the end of its lifestyle is game-changing.”

Like most wetsuits, the new Terraprene suit is designed to last, but like any suit it will come down to how much you swim and how well you look after your suit. “We meet people at events in our suits that are almost 10 years old and others who buy a new suit every year due to the nature of their swimming,” says Xander. “Like all our suits, this suit should be able to be used for number of years, if you look after it!”   

The new Terraprene suit will be available from from 16 April. The team will be touring the country at triathlon and open water events for people to try suits on and get help with fit.  

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Ella is renowned outdoor swimmer and journalist. As well as leading the editorial, digital and experiential outputs for Outdoor Swimmer she is also Director of Dip Advisor, a swim guiding business helping people enjoy wild water. Ella also teaches swimming to children and adults, is an Open Water Coach and RLSS Open Water Lifeguard.