8 million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean every year on top of the 150 million metric tons (1 metric ton = 2205 pounds) of plastics that currently circulate our sea. That’s equivalent to dumping one city garbage truck full of plastic in our ocean every minute of every day for an entire year.
From the tiniest plankton to the largest whales, plastics impact nearly 700 species in our ocean (in fact, plastics have been found in 60% of all seabirds and in 100% of all turtle species that mistake plastic for food). Plastic production and consumption are predicted to double over the next 10 years.* This means that sometime in the next decade there could be upward of 250 million metric tons of plastic in our ocean. By the year 2050, if this continues, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.
The ocean, marine life, and the waves we love are being severely threatened. As surfers, we like to think that we are ocean-friendly, green, and enveloped in a life-long symbiotic relationship with nature but the reality is that the surfboards we ride are anything but eco-friendly. Worldwide over 750, 000 surfboards are manufactured each year, the majority (estimated up to 90%) being unsustainable foam-core boards (polyurethane or EPS). Polystyrene (a.k.a.) styrofoam is made up of tightly packed plastic beads. Plastic never bio-degrades, it photo-degrades breaking into smaller and smaller pieces—our ocean is unfortunately filled with it. Data from Life Cycle Analysis of surfboards strongly suggest the manufacturing process pollutes the environment and can be harmful to the people who create, use, and repair boards. According to the LCA study, a 6’0″ surfboard weighs 5.5 lbs and causes 600 lbs of carbon dioxide to be emitted during the life cycle of manufacturing, repairs, and disposal.
There are organizations, like Sustainable Surf and their Waste To Waves programs that are making environmentally conscious efforts to recycle and promote the use of recycled EPS boards, but shouldn’t we all as surfers who love and respect our ocean be concerned and aware of the environmental impact of our surfboards?
Meet Eddy Garcia of Living Earth Systems, a holistic firm specializing in sustainable farm design. He also runs a non-profit, Regenerative Education Centers, an eco-education center focused on regenerative lifestyles and solutions for a sustainable future. Eddy grew up in Hawaii, where he put surfing above most other things. As a teenager, he went to Molokai and was adopted into a Hawaiian family through the hanai system (on Hawaii there are no “unwanted” children, anyone can be adopted by another regardless of age). His job was to hunt, fish and grow food for the family. Eddy surfed all day, every day. One of his first jobs was in regenerative agriculture—helping repair the damage from chemical fertilizers to the fields in Hawaii by the pineapple and sugarcane industries. To Eddy, it was obvious that there was no reason to fight Nature to grow food with chemicals when Nature is already perfect and balanced. Through his company, @LivingEarthSystems, Eddy now helps others to build sustainable farms that regenerate the soil. Through his non-profit, @ReCentersOrg, Eddy shares his unique knowledge with the world.
One day while experimenting with new ways to make fertilizers by feeding food scraps and wood chips to mealworms, Eddy noticed that the larvae had eaten their way out of the styrofoam container that he’d been keeping them in and he wondered…
Eddy threw the worms in with a couple of broken EPS (styrofoam) surfboards and within a week the worms completely ate the surfboards, turning them into a few coffee cans of soil (Eddy Garcia has filed for a patent for his process which involves inoculating what the worms leave behind with a mycelium fungus and then feeding it back to them—and a few other creatures as well, like woodlice and anthropoids). A 2015 study by Stanford University confirms that mealworms gut bacteria can indeed break down styrofoam into organic material.
If an old unusable surfboard, instead of being recycled, can be devoured by mealworms and turned into reusable soil then it is potentially possible for a company like Agave Surf—a California company that sources local agave stalks for surfboard blanks—to plant and harvest agave for surfboard production in soil made from dead surfboards. @AgaveSurf currently uses Entropy Resins biobased Epoxy Super Sap (which uses renewable plant-based carbon to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of the production of their resins by 33% over tradition petroleum-based epoxy resins) to finish their plant-based surfboards. So there is potential here for a full-circle, closed loop (zero waste), eco-friendly surfboard.
There is one company that has been using Eddy’s styrofoam eating worms to become the world’s first zero-waste surfboard facility, Earth Technologies LLC (www.earthtechsurf.com). @EarthTechnologies has three ways that they’ve been able to achieve zero-waste (no waste stream headed to the landfill).
- Living Earth Systems. Using a network of mealworms on rural farms that eat all foam shaping dust, stringer (wood) scraps, and foam off-cuts turning it all into an organic byproduct.
- The Board Recycling and Deposit Program. Instead of old boards going to the landfill, customers can recycle them for an in-store credit, a portion of the store credit goes toward nonprofit support. @EarthTechnologies upcycles the foam to make new boards.
- The Vacuum Infusion System. All shop trash/waste gets sorted/categorized then processed by two machines: an industrial shredder and a particle reducer. This densified waste gets turned into new products like surfboard fins.
So while the full-circle, eco-friendly surfboard may not be entirely here yet, there are still significant ways for us as surfers to reduce our environmental impact. The next time you’re eyeing that new surfboard, why not think like Eddy Garcia and go as eco-friendly as possible? Maybe you’ll even shred your new eco-sled like him too.
To learn more about Eddy Garcia and Living Earth Systems watch this short video:
To learn more about plastics in our ocean and our world click below:
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