Limestone replaces petroleum in Gemma Lee’s Wetsuits

by

Lauren Stiles

Sustainability 101

July 8, 2021

As a global society, it is essential that we find alternatives for fossil fuels in essentially every industry that we have. This needs to happen in the very near future. Now would be best. A common use of fossil fuels that may not be immediately obvious to the consumer is for creating synthetic fabrics such as polyester, nylon, and spandex. Countless fast fashion pieces are made from these types of fabrics. Most wetsuits are also made from a petroleum-based synthetic fabric called neoprene. The practice of making fabric from fossil fuel bases is exceptionally unsustainable since fossil fuel reserves will soon run out and releasing more of them into the environment will contribute further to climate change.

There is a type of wetsuit made by the surf brand Gemma Lee that avoids using fossil fuels. Instead, a fabric derived from limestone rock (calcium carbonate) called Geoprene makes up Gemma Lee’s suits. This fabric actually provides better protection from the cold than traditionally made wetsuits and is also lighter and more durable. Therefore, Gemma Lee’s wetsuits will last longer than petroleum based ones.

Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to using Geoprene. Limestone mining is an environmentally damaging process that can lead to groundwater contamination, sinkholes, destruction of habitats in deep caves, and emission of dust that is unhealthy for humans to breathe in. Though limestone mining certainly has negative environmental impacts, the reserves of this resource will last for 3,000 more years while fossil fuels will not. Therefore, Geoprene is a more sustainable option for wetsuits than petroleum based fabrics, even though it is not perfect. Overall, it is important to recognize that just because a substance is better than fossil fuels from an environmental standpoint does not mean that it is necessarily good for the Earth. Comparing substances to fossil fuels is quite a low bar but is unfortunately where we are at right now. 

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