Here is the good news: Expanded polystyrene (a.k.a. EPS, or the branded name Styrofoam) is recyclable. Here's the bad news: much of it is not recycled and therefore EPS-based surfboards are made from virgin EPS. Some more bad news: Only about 30 percent of surfboards are made with EPS. One more piece of bad news: The most commonly used resins* used in surfboard manufacturing are toxic. Sustainable Surf, a non-profit aimed at helping the surf industry reduce its environmental impact, is hoping to change all of that bad news.
The NGO celebrated the launch of its Ecoboard program, which finally established an industry benchmark that board makers can follow in order to boost the environmental credibility of their products, last week in San Francisco. "Ecoboard is the industry's first third-party science-based benchmark," Sustainable Surf's co-founder Michael Stewart told me.
Stewart is a life-long surfer, and he looks like one. But he's also all business, which becomes apparent as he starts to talk shop, rattling off the attributes of recycled EPS and the potential of using bio-based epoxy for glassing a surfboard instead of using polyester resins. The majority of surfboards on the market today are manufactured with polyurethane foam cores, which can be recycled but aren't in any meaningful quantity, and these boards are made with polyester epoxies.
Prior to launching Sustainable Surf, Stewart worked at Underwriters Laboratories, a standards-setting organization serving the electronics industry. He knows from standards. And he's quick to point out that Sustainable Surf is still a long way from developing a sustainability standard for the surf industry—doing so will be major undertaking. "We're going to build a standard," he says. "But first it's a [bench]mark."