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August 2009    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 24, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Recycling Your Old Dive Equipment

for divers with worn-out gear, it’s not easy being green

from the August, 2009 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

We recently got a letter from reader Suzanne Rose (Natick, MA), asking us how she can “retire” her old, worn-out scuba gear. “Such as the wetsuit that has completely fallen apart. I did once ask a rep at a dive show rep about this. He said I could mail my worn-out wetsuit to the company and that they’d ‘take care of it.’ He didn’t seem sure as to what exactly they would do with it so, worried that they would just throw it away, I never sent it to them. But I don’t want to throw it in the trash and have it wind up in a landfill, as I suspect it takes a long time for neoprene to disintegrate.”

After interviewing dive shops, gear manufacturers and recycling experts, we concluded there isn’t a simple way yet to recycle dive gear. Some types of equipment are easier to recycle than others - - but it’s up to the diver to make the effort getting it to the most eco-friendly place.

The best bet for eco-friendly disposal is to first contact the manufacturer - - many are putting together recycling programs for their gear. While some companies will take them back for free, others require you to upgrade to a newer product before they’ll recycle. The gear easiest for them to recycle are BCDs, regulators, dive computers and instruments. Mark Lane in Oceanic and Aeris’s customer service department says his company has a trade-in program for those products for customers who upgrade to newer models. The metals used in those products are stripped out, and the company used them in the creation of new gear.

Second, ask your dive shop. Gordon Scott of Universal Scuba Distributors in Houston says his shop has trade-in and resale programs for many types of dive gear. He’ll even take tanks made after 1990 because they can be re-certified and put back into use. Still, adds Scott, some stuff will just end up in the trash. Sal Zammitti, owner of Bamboo Reef in the green-pioneering San Francisco, admits he has no choice but to toss rubber masks, fins and wetsuits too worn for resale because there is no place that recycles materials in small quantities.

If your gear still has some life in it, consider re-selling it online at eBay. A recent check of used regulators on the site showed 124 for sale. Or donate it to your local Salvation Army or Goodwill Store, where profits go to job-training efforts and career services. Some don’t accept dive gear, so ask beforehand. If your gear doesn’t sell, however, it will, depending on the individual store’s policy, either go to a recycler or the trash can.

Consider donating your gear to an organization that uses divers, like your local aquarium. Jack Kuhn of Harbor Dive in Sausalito, CA, donates his store’s used wetsuits, masks and fins to the nearby Marine Mammal Center. “Their stuff gets trashed quickly because they’re often diving in surf and near rocks, so they’re always looking for replacements.”

If your dive gear is just too old to be used anymore, how can you know whether it will make the recycling cut? Here’s a cheat sheet:

Dive computers, regulators and gauges: After the products are disassembled, the computer batteries, brass, aluminum and other metals are recycled for use in new products. Cynthia Georgeson, spokesperson for Johnson Outdoors, which owns ScubaPro and Uwatec, says the company uses a specialized recycler that can efficiently separate the scrap material for re-use. Lane at Oceanic/Aeris doesn’t know what happens to the rubber in regs and BCDs. “Those are trickier because there’s lots more involved in their disposal and I’m not aware of anyone who recycles them. A lot of our soft stuff is made overseas so it’s not like we can put them back in the manufacturing cycle.”

Wetsuits: O’Neill says it has a recycling program in the works but currently does not ask customers to ship old wetsuits back to the company. We also contacted BodyGlove, another major wetsuit maker, but they never responded to us. But we did find Green Guru, a company in Boulder, CO, that will take neoprene wetsuits and turn them into snowboard and surfboard bags (www.greengurugear.com). However, you do have to pay the shipping bill. If the worst happens and the wetsuit does end up in the landfill, says Gordon Scott, neoprene does break down over time. “The earth eats it because it’s filled with nitrogen. If you don’t want to do that, you can recycle it as horse blankets, dog covers, and padding.”

Tanks: If your aluminum tank was made after 1990, ask your dive shop if they can take it back (pre-1990 tanks were made of metals with weaker alloys). Steel tanks can be recycled but scrap yards require that you cut them in half before you bring them in or they’ll charge you $20 or so per tank to take it off your hands.

Fins and Masks: Very few recyclers will take just a pair of fins or a wetsuit or two, so these are the most likely to go in the landfill. Glass in masks is usually tempered, unlike that in standard food bottles, making it harder for reuse.

There are a few self-starters trying to get their peers involved. One is Ocean First Divers in Boulder, which prides itself on promoting eco-friendly dive practices. It asks customers to bring in old wetsuits, gives them $20 off the purchase of a new one, then sends the scrapped wetsuits to GreenGuru. Owner Graham Casden says he has been talking to PADI about wetsuit reclamation nationwide and that the agency has asked him to go to the big DEMA show this October to talk about creating eco-friendly dive shops.

Unless DEMA or the major manufacturers pick up the cause, it’s up to you to make the effort. “The problem is there must be someone who has the energy and financials to do it,” says Scott. “Most manufacturers don’t want to handle this, and they won’t even answer their phones.”

- - Vanessa Richardson

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