Project 1

Upcycling old wetsuits and repurposing them into pencil cases, laptop bags and mouse mats to prevent them from being dumped in landfill

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and is a curriculum or way of educating through these four disciplines.  STEM resolves conflicts the traditional between subjects and focuses the learning on solving real-world problems, not hypothetical ones. I tasked the STEM students I teach with the big problems we face when it comes to human impact on our planet, what they did blew me away!

Inspired by Lynn from @the_upcycle_movement a team of STEM students have come up with an idea to reuse old wetsuits which are made of tough, durable neoprene and turn them into pencil cases, laptop bags, bottle holders and mouse mats.

To give you some context, there are 18 students in total working on the projects. The students are aged 12 to 14 years of age and are sub-divided into small groups, each responsible for moving the project from the problem stage to solutions. We launched the projects in September 2018 after a STEM day themed on environmentalism. What emerged from that day was a commitment to raise awareness and to find solutions, whilst having fun in the process.

Science – Neoprene once disposed of,  sits in a landfill for 200 years and is resilient to biodegrading. The team examined how wetsuits are made and decided to repurpose them into products they can sell. The tough, durable nature of neoprene made it a challenge to work with. On the flipside, the longevity of neoprene justifies it’s existence beyond its original purpose and gives it a new life.

Technology – The majority of the research was conducted online, looking at alternatives to neoprene which is created using oil making it reliant on fossil fuels in the production stage. Patagonia offers an ethical alternative product made from Yulex, a plant-based rubber. Ecoprine, whilst in early development is another promising concept. In January of 2019, an appeal went out via social media to collect people’s old wetsuits for free and turn them into new products. The reasons and rationale were explained and @sortedsurfshop helped by offering a local drop off point for old wetsuits. In total, 23 wetsuits were donated. A target of 20 pencil cases was set.

Engineering / Art: – A prototype pencil case was designed, dubbed ‘generation 1’. The resale value was set at £5 per pencil case with production scheduled for March 2019. Due to popular demand, all 20 ‘generation 1’ pencil cases were sold to pre-orders sparking more interest in the project. The team faced many challenges during the production stage which fell into three main categories:

  1. Due to the varying cuts and thickness of the wetsuits, students found it difficult to use all parts of the wetsuit. They found 3mm to be the most agreeable and adult sizes the most generous for templates and reuses.
  2. The sewing machine needles don’t always penetrate through the neoprene, particularly on thicker 5mm wetsuits.
  3. The odours from old wetsuits can be quite off-putting to the customer so wetsuit cleaners were applied to make them smell nicer. It helped that we stashed them next to Lush cosmetics products which made them smell better!

Mathematics: Profits generated from ‘generation 1’ will be used to fund ‘generation 2’ which will be improved and tweaked to include tags and some new experimental products. Please follow our journey @educational.hipsters or via our Facebook page which will be the platform for progress updates, pre-sales and news. Budgeting, forecasting, profit loss and gains were a central part of the planning and the learning. 


On June 25th we are taking ‘generation 2’ pencil cases and other products to the South West Big Bang STEM competition being held in Exeter. To keep up to date with this project and other STEM initiatives, subscribe to the blog or follow us on social.


Some companies are doing things differently. Patagonia make wet-suits from Yulex as a sustainable natural replacement for neoprene which relies on fossil fuels and deforestation
British company Finisterre based in Cornwall are looking at ways to recycle used wet-suits into new products.
SUGA make yoga mats from old wetsuits, another cool product from discarded neoprene