DENVER – One of the newest facets of the snow sports industry is recycling used ski equipment. To make it work will take greater retailer participation as well as convincing skiers to give up their old gear.
Skis and snowboards, ski boots and helmets can only be traded at ski swaps for so long before they’re worn out and no longer safe to use, so the ski industry is working on new lives for old gear, starting in Utah and Colorado.
The Snow Sports Recycling Program is collecting outdated equipment by the ton, and sending some of it to Washington State University for testing recycling options. The old gear is being ground up and pressed into panels similar to particle board.
Dr. Karl Englund, professor at the WSU Composite Engineering Center, said ski gear is made to be tough, so it’s been quite a challenge.
“There are different types of polymers in there that all have different attributes, that have different processing requirements, and a lot of ’em don’t blend together very well,” the professor remarked. “And thus it becomes more of an economic hurdle to get these things into a usable material again.”
Other possibilities are making flooring or blocks for landscaping, or incorporating the material into cultured rock. Englund said they definitely can make products out of the deconstructed ski gear. The question is: Can it be done profitably in the long term?
Greg Schneider, who heads the recycling program for SnowSports Industries America, said they want to get more retailers on board and expand the program into other states. Stores have to work out the logistics for stockpiling the old gear, and skiers have to realize that, although it is sturdy, even the best equipment doesn’t last forever.
“We’re encouraging people to clean out your garages, clean out your attics, and bring this equipment in, to find a home, let’s say, for these old skis that nobody’s using anymore,” he declared. “And then, it also gives them the opportunity to try the new equipment, the new technologies that are out there.”
Schneider said making other items from the material in ski equipment is only a temporary solution. The industry wants to create a sustainable design model that would allow the materials in an old snowboard or pair of ski boots to someday be re-purposed as new ski gear.
More about the program, with a list of places that accept used gear for recycling is online at snowsrp.org.