Neoprene is likely a staple of your daily routine – from your wetsuit to your mouse mat – but how much do we actually know about it? Its name doesn’t give much away: this is partly because it is actually the trade name given to polychloroprene rubber by the original creators of neoprene, chemical company DuPont.
Polychloroprene, or neoprene, is manufactured by the polymerisation of chloroprene rubber, a process that links up individual molecules to create units of multiple molecules, hence neoprene’s name. This method creates chips which are melted, mixed and baked, expanding into sheets.
A DuPont chemist, Arnold Collins, was the driving force behind the creation of the synthetic neoprene after demand for natural rubber increased in the 1920s, and it is still in widespread use today. Neoprene is insulating, versatile and hardwearing: it is highly resistant to temperature, water and chemicals, and so has many varieties and uses.
It can have differing levels of density, hardness and elasticity, be coated with materials from lycra to polyester, and can vary in thickness. The uses are immensely varied: it is the main material used in the manufacture of wetsuits, and can also be used for gloves, headwear and boots for watersports, as well as for yoga mats, bags, life jackets and mouse mats, to name a few. It’s also found in smaller amounts in light bulbs and wiring, due to heat resistant qualities.
However, neoprene’s robustness also means that it resists degradation. This is great when you’re surfing or diving and potentially going between hot sun and strong currents, but it’s terrible for our planet. It does not biodegrade and needs large amounts of heat and pressure to be broken down and destroyed by incineration, releasing large amounts of pollution into the atmosphere. The manufacturing process is equally toxic, and the amount of neoprene going to landfill each year is vast.
The health risk posed by neoprene manufacture is more well known than ever: for example, California’s Proposition 65 includes chloroprene on its list of carcinogens, meaning that businesses are faced with more pressure to feature health warnings on their wetsuits.
Circular Flow provides the solution, allowing neoprene to be recycled in a clean, non toxic way, and used again and again – read more about our process here.