Snowboarding can have a sustainable future – when manufacturers come on board
From using harmful resins to sourcing wood from endangered forests, overpacking products to powering non-renewable energy systems, building a snowboard is a harmful process – both for the planet and for its shaper. At least it used to be. Brands all over the map have started investing in the future of snowboarding, and it’s a sustainable one.
This is thanks to snowboarder-run nonprofits like Protect Our Winters, and a series of scientific studies that have highlighted the snow sports industry’s volatile role in climate change.
Now Mervin Manufacturing – the parent company of Lib Tech and Gnu – gets its wood cores from renewable forest products. Arbor Snowboards uses recycled steel on the edges of its boards. Burton used clean bioresins as opposed to petroleum-based epoxies. And Capita Snowboarding has a production facility in Austria that is operated 100 percent with hydropower. The list goes on and on.
Why the snowboard industry is so bad for the planet
“Most snowboard brands use sustainable practices and alternatives to source raw materials,” said Ana Van Pelt, co-founder of Niche Snowboards in Salt Lake City. “But there are still an overwhelming number of problems in our supply chains, and the biggest culprit is massive waste generation.”
That’s because traditional snowboards are epoxy-based composites – which makes them wasteful, non-recyclable, and inherently unsolvable. Once an epoxy-based product is made, the individual raw materials cannot be recovered or reused as they are fused together. This means that five to 40 percent of the raw materials used during a traditional snowboard manufacturing process – and up to 100 percent of the snowboards thrown away – ends up in a landfill.
The problems with epoxy-based composites are not limited to the snowboard world. Shoes, electronics, bicycles and lights are just a handful of consumer goods made with epoxy – and this list of non-recyclable products is growing every day.
However, there is one solution that was pioneered in the snowboard industry.
Niche Snowboards introduces the world’s first 100 percent recyclable snowboard
Niche snowboards entered the snowboard market in 2009 with a radical vision. Amid a multi-billion dollar industry promoting toxic practices at all levels of production, they vowed to build a green snowboard that could outperform the competition.
“Our plan from day one was to do things differently – to do things better,” says Van Pelt.
Niche Snowboards introduced its first line of products in 2012, which contained a unique Snappy Sap bio-resin. Instead of using a traditional petroleum-based adhesive, Niche partnered with Entropy to create a bioresin made from renewable resources from waste streams. A study conducted by Entropy found that using bioresins, unlike traditional alternatives, can reduce a snowboard’s carbon footprint by 40 percent. This breakthrough was celebrated by consumers who claimed the environmentally friendly material resulted in lighter, faster, and more durable trips.
In 2017 Van Pelt and her team took sustainable manufacturing to a whole new level when they launched the world’s first 100 percent recyclable snowboard. They partnered with Connora to apply their Recyclamine technology to existing bioresins that can be used to disassemble, separate, reclaim and recycle a snowboard.
Recyclamin allows excess waste or old snowboards to be soaked in a proprietary solution that releases the chemical bond fused by resin, releasing all raw materials. These materials can then be recycled or upcycled to make new products like surfboard fins and binding components.
“It is one thing for companies to move to bioresins to reduce their environmental footprint. However, moving to fully recyclable technologies that can be produced without waste is a game-changing technology that can change the world,” said Van Pelt.
Today, every snowboard made by Niche uses Recyclamine technology.
“To keep boards out of the landfill, we need to band together.”
Another snowboard company that develops products with end-of-life solutions in mind is Burton Snowboards. Shortly after Niche launched Recyclamine, Burton introduced an identical solution known as ReRez epoxy. It is now used in all low-volume and special edition boards built in the Prototype Facility at Burton’s headquarters in Burlington, VT.
“It’s amazing to see how other brands are using these recyclable technologies,” says Van Pelt. “We hope to investigate how these systems can be replicated in other industries so we can work together to recycle goods in bulk and make them economically sustainable.”
Niche snowboards have completed the first step: they have made a range of snowboards that can be recycled. Now they need to find a solution to incentivize and reclaim all end-of-life products so that they can be recycled.
“Ultimately, we have to team up if we are to keep boards out of the landfill,” says Van Pelt. “We’re a very, very small fish in a billion dollar business – and we can’t do it alone.”
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