From the use of harmful resins to sourcing wood from endangered forests, over-packaging products to powering facilities with non-renewables, building a snowboard is a harmful process—for both the planet and its shaper. At least it used to be. Brands across the map have begun investing in the future for snowboarding, and it’s a sustainable one.
That’s thanks to snowboarder-run environmental nonprofits like Protect Our Winters and a sequence of scientific studies that have exposed the snowsports industry’s volatile role in climate change.
Now, Mervin Manufacturing—the parent company of Lib Tech and Gnu—is sourcing its wood cores from renewable forest products. Arbor Snowboards is using recycled steel in the edges of its boards. Burton adopted the use of clean bioresins as opposed to petroleum-based epoxies. And Capita Snowboarding owns a manufacturing facility in Austria that’s 100 percent hydro-powered. The list goes on and on.
Why the Snowboarding Industry Is so Bad for the Planet
“Most snowboard brands are engaging in sustainable practices and utilizing sustainable alternatives when sourcing raw materials,” said Ana Van Pelt, co-founder of Salt Lake City-based Niche Snowboards. “But, there’s an overwhelming amount of problems that still exist throughout our supply chains, and the greatest offender is massive waste generation.”
That’s because traditional snowboards are epoxy-based composites—making them wasteful, un-recyclable, and intractable by design. Once an epoxy-based product is manufactured, it’s individual raw materials can’t be recovered or re-used, because they’re fused together. Meaning that five to 40 percent of raw materials used during a traditional snowboard manufacturing process—and up to 100 percent of trashed snowboards—will end up in a landfill.
The problems surrounding epoxy-based composites aren’t confined to the snowboard world. Shoes, electronics, bicycles, and light fixtures are just a handful of consumer goods manufactured with epoxy—and this list of un-recyclable products is growing every day.
A solution does exist, however, and it was pioneered in the snowboard industry.
Niche Snowboards Introduces the World’s First 100-Percent Recyclable Snowboard
Niche Snowboards entered the snowboard market with a radical vision in 2009. Amidst a multi-billion dollar industry boosting toxic practices throughout all levels of production, they vowed to build a green snowboard that could outperform the competition.
“Our plan from day one was to do things differently—do things better,” says Van Pelt.
Niche Snowboards introduced its first line of products in 2012, which featured a one-of-a-kind Snappy Sap Bio-Resin. Rather than using a traditional petroleum-based adhesive, Niche partnered with Entropy to create a bioresin composed of renewable materials from waste streams. A study conducted by Entropy discovered the use of bioresins, opposed to traditional alternatives, could reduce a snowboard’s carbon footprint by 40 percent. This breakthrough was celebrated by consumers who claimed the eco-alternative material led to lighter, snappier, and more durable rides.
In 2017, Van Pelt and her team took sustainable manufacturing to a whole new level when they brought the world’s first 100-percent recyclable snowboard to market. They teamed up with Connora to apply their Recyclamine technology to existing bioresins, which allows a snowboard to be broken down, separated, reclaimed, and recycled.
With Recyclamine, excess waste materials or end-of-life snowboards can be soaked in a proprietary solution that releases the chemical bond fused by resin, releasing all the raw materials. These materials can then be recycled or upcycled to create new products like surfboard fins and binding components.
“It’s one thing for companies to transition to bioresins to reduce their environmental impact, but moving toward fully recyclable technologies that allow for zero-waste manufacturing is a groundbreaking technology that has the capacity to change the world,” said Van Pelt.
Today, every snowboard manufactured by Niche uses Recyclamine technology.
“To keep boards out of the landfill, we need to band together.”
Another snowboard company designing products with end-of-life solutions in mind is Burton Snowboards. Shortly after Niche brought Recyclamine to market, Burton introduced an identical solution known as ReRez epoxy. It’s now used in all small-batch and special-edition boards built at Burton headquarters’ Prototype Facility in Burlington, VT.
“It’s amazing to see other brands adopting these recyclable technologies,” says Van Pelt. “Our hope is to explore how these systems can be replicated across other industries as well, so we can work together to recycle goods in bigger batches to make it economically sustainable.”
Niche Snowboards completed the first step—they manufactured a line of snowboards that can be recycled. Now, they must come up with a solution to incentivize and reclaim all end-of-life goods, so they can be recycled.
“Ultimately, if we’re going to keep boards out of the landfill, we need to band together,” Van Pelt says. “We’re a very, very small fish in a multi-billion dollar business—and we can’t do it alone.”