The phrase environmentally friendly and the snowboarding industry don’t seem to belong in the same sentence, right? To begin with, boards are built with non-biodegradable materials such as plastics, resins, and fiberglass. Then add waxes, P-tex, and epoxies for repairs, not to mention the cleaners used to clean up the boards and the backshop. And if the board isn’t repairable, what do you do with it? SNOWboarding Business asked shop techs nationwide about their environmental practices in the backshop, and the response was laughter. But after a little consideration, most techs realized there is a wide range of areas where you can minimize negative impact on the environment. Here’s what we came up with:
Paper Towels and Other Waste
Starting with the basics, you can change your practices regarding cleaners, paper towels, and shipping. Many shops are now using eco-friendly citrus-based cleaners that are non-toxic and biodegradable. Lieb Wexler at Snowboard Connection in Seattle says he now uses these kinds of cleaners except on really tough jobs¿then he will use acetone. Tahoe-based independent shop tech Trevor Brown suggests something else: “Simple Green is something people forget about. It’s less odorous, and biodegradable.”
But, snowboards are not the only thing you clean in the shop. There is the shop itself. Be innovative. Wexler says he uses things like newspapers and outdated publications to clean off glass cases and windows. This eliminates excessive use of paper towels, another unnecessary waste area. In cleaning boards, try reusable alternatives such as rags. Some shop owners wash the rags themselves, others use linen services to extend the life of the rag. Take it a step further: don’t even buy shop rags, but use old T-shirts or ruined clothes.
Consciousness in the shipping department has gotten better in the past few years. Bob Daly, owner of Shoreline Pro Snowboard Shop in Tahoe, California, recalls opening boxes that were filled with tons of brown paper. In fact, there was so much, Daly says, “it filled my store.” He notes that when you open a snowboard box, usually the last six inches of empty space is filled with packaging material.
“We yell at our suppliers that ship stuff with styrofoam pellets in it,” Wexler says, “and tell them to send us something we can recycle, not throw out.” Old Boards
Excessive waste can also be eliminated by recycling or reusing old boards and bindings. An old board can be put to many uses. Begin with a philosophy to try to make things last longer. Wexler says they aim at getting kids to take better care of their boards by tuning and waxing them regularly. “We try to get them to bring the boards in when they’re falling apart instead of yelling at Mom and Dad to get them a new one for each season. A lot of it is economic necessity, but it’s common sense, too. Repair instead of replace.”
Anthony Scaturro, vice president of EZ Rider in Woburn, Massachusetts, uses warranty-returned and old boards for several different purposes. “We keep them around so when we get new belts for our grinder, we can use the boards to break them in. Or let new employees train on. We also make shelves with boards, and I like to keep boards from each era to show the sport’s progression. It’s kind of like a chronological museum.” But these aren’t the only uses for old boards. Shops can use the boards to help customers figure out their stance or to make furniture such as benches and tables. You can even fill up your spare-parts boxes by stripping both boards and bindings for edges, straps, and buckles.
Glue and Other Goo
After dealing with the basics, move on to the harsher products used in the backshop. Again, begin with the philosophy that since these products aren’t biodegradable, use less of them. Brown explains the problem: “I see people waxing a board, and there’s wax dripping all over the floor and bench. You see guys fixing some little delam, and they’ve got a puddle of glue tthat you could build a whole board out of.” Make an effort to use only what you need.
Some companies are building equipment to minimize the waste. Grindrite Sales Director Stan Woliner says, “Right now, we have the Hot Belt Waxer, which lessens the amount of wax applied, and there is no wax or debris left over.” Woliner says they are trying to develop other systems to minimize waste. Skins makes a quick waxer, the Toaster, that also eliminates excess waste.
Scaturro says he tries to eliminate P-tex waste by using the entire candle. “Grab it with a pair of vice grips so you can burn the whole thing. I mean, one¿it’s more cost effective, and two¿you’re not hucking a piece of plastic in the trash every couple of days.” He says although it may seem labor intensive, he melts the small pieces together to form a new candle.
How well is your backshop ventilated? Some take more precautions than others. Brown says it’s serious business: “I use a respirator all the time now whenever I do glue work or any sort of waxing. That will save the lungs in the long run.”
Woliner says, “There are some toxic materials that you’re dealing with in wax and P-tex. You definitely should have good ventilation in your backshop, either an exhaust fan or possibly a filtration system.”
Rev Murray, a tech at North Shore Snowboard Shop in Bend, Oregon, is also taking the safe side: “All our shop air is recycled and filtered, it doesn’t just pump outside. We just built this shop and moved in last December, so all that duct work was done in construction.”
One simple but important practice is to make sure you turn off your irons after you wax, so the area doesn’t get smoky with wax fumes. Also, turn off your grinder when it’s not in use to save electricity. And finally, hand-tune if you’re not busy.
Who should you call?
If you’re concerned with the safety hazards of the products you’re using, ask the product supplier for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Although some of the same materials are used in backshops as in factories, retailers usually do not have MSDS on hand like manufacturers do. The sheets provide information such as actual ingredients, proper disposal techniques, environmental information, health-hazard data, first aid, and more. It is your right to have this available knowledge. Doctor Mitchell Single, senior medical officer for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) cautions workers to be aware: “The things they’re working with, particularly plastics and resins, can cause dermatitis just from skin contact. Also, some of them might be respiratory sensitizers that can cause allergic reactions.” NIOSH has a Health Hazard Evaluation Program that offers free advice for small businesses.
It is surprising how many shops have absolutely no recycling programs or never think about these simple practices. If you haven’t thought about these things, there’s no better time than the present. To get started, try calling NIOSH at 1-800-356-4674 or contact your local county or state health department for more information.
By Andrea Peters
Andrea Peters spent last winter in Crested Butte getting back to nature. She will be writing the Green Scene environmental column this season.