As it’s been an expensive year so far, we are staying closer to home this summer – which suits me fine, because I love holidays in the UK. The main downside for me is that holidays means surfing, and the UK summer can deliver a lot of small, dribbly waves (even in Cornwall). In preparation for this, I bought a brand new bargain foam surfboard from Cost Co. With this baby, I can still get out in the water in even the crappiest surf. At £130 it’s a bargain. And the kids love playing on it too.
But hang on, Mr Eco Warrior, I hear you say. What the heck is eco about buying 5 kilos of high impact polystyrene?
That is certainly a lot of coffee cups right there! (over 3,000 of the bloody things, in fact). It makes me sad to imagine all those bobbing round in the ocean. I also have a historic aversion to anything made of polystyrene, which dates from the days when it contained bucket loads of ozone-knackering chemicals. So let’s look at the impact of my new toy for a moment.
Wavestorm vs Planet
The 8ft Classic Wavestorm is mass produced in Taiwan from mostly expanded polystyrene (EPS), with an HDPE bottom and three marine plywood stringers (thin bits of wood that go through the board to give it more strength.) As such, it sounds pretty much the antithesis of environmentally friendly surfing (I would think more of beautiful, lovingly handcrafted hollow wooden boards like these).
Making polystyrene is a pretty nasty business, for sure. It is made mainly from oil, and produces some pretty toxic waste. But in purely carbon footprint terms, the Wavestorm is surprisingly low impact. It weighs 5.2kg, so using manufacturer’s figures this gives a carbon footprint of around 20 kg CO2e per board. At the end of its life, if I chuck the polystyrene and plastic remains in the bin at the local recycling centre, it will go to the city incinerator. There it will undoubtedly burn like stink, and produce another estimated 27kg of greenhouse gases*, as well as some heat and a small amount of particulates and ash. (The ozone-depleting chemicals have all been replaced by a gas called pentane, so at least it won’t be making the ozone layer thinning any worse.) The city incinerator is a heat recovery unit, so the burning will provide heat for the local public swimming pools and a host of other central buildings via a district heating system.
If I were to chuck it onto landfill, that would be the worst option, as it is bulky and will never, ever break down or do anything useful (although the embedded greenhouse gases would remain locked inside it rather than being released to the atmosphere). Theoretically it would be possible to recycle the board into more polystyrene cups etc, but there aren’t – to my knowledge – any facilities to actually do that.
Conclusion? Don’t sweat it.
So the total lifespan emissions of my board are around 47kg of greenhouse gas from factory to incinerator. If I can make it last for 10 years (which with care should be possible), that is a bit under 5kg per year for my board. Even if I add another 20% for shipping, packaging and manufacturer under-reporting the climate impacts, it’s still not really that much.
In truth, I was surprised at how low the actual carbon footprint of the Wavestorm is. I expected it to be much higher. And if you compare it to the environmental impact of flying from the UK to somewhere with consistently good waves, it doesn’t even register; Wavestorm wins hands down.
So I’m off to the beach! Til next time, have a great summer.
* I estimated that a kilo of polystyrene produced the same greenhouse gases as 2 kilos of diesel. So that would be 10kg diesel @ 2.772kg CO2e = 27.72. It’s just an estimate, if anyone is a polystyrene expert and wants to improve on this – please do.