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Looking Good is Half the Battle; Turning Beat Up Skateboards Into New Products

Virginia Tech

Recycling is one of those universal ‘goods’ in our society.  But it’s facing challenges with new rules recently announced for what can and can’t go to recycling centers. One Virginia Tech student got creative and found a way to recycle something he loves, into something someone else could use.

Dylan Willard loves to skateboard.    

“It’s the best feeling in the world, jumping through the air, sliding on rails, rolling over things. It’s almost mind-boggling," he says.  "It’s second nature, like having another arm.”

Willard’s board looks pretty beat up.  I ask how long he’s had it.

“I haven’t been riding this one that much because I’ve been so busy with school, so about 3 months.”

Looks more like 3 years.

Riding those ledges and rails quickly scratches up the bottom of the board and all those ‘ollies,’ that’s the sound of jumping you hear, wear down the top deck to the point that pretty soon, the board won’t be usable anymore.

So, Willard, who studies at Virginia Tech’s Booker Center for Bio-sustainable Materials, went to his professor, Joseph Loferski, to talk with him about recycling parts of the boards that were still in good shape.

“I had no idea that skateboards needed to be recycled.” says Loferski. “I thought you just bought a skateboard and it would last for years, but it turns out that serious skateboarders use them so much, that they just wear out and almost erode away and need to be replaced.”

Loferski thought it was an interesting problem to study, so he suggested a  Willard do a research project to see just how durable those middle layers remain and what they might be used for.  “And when we started getting into it, I found out from Dylan’s research that after you cut up the skate boards, you can make new things from them.”

Skate boards have 7 layers of plywood. The middle 5 are stained different colors, which gives them that very cool look as they glide by.  But, when the top and bottom layers go, those dyed layers in between, appear at least, to be pretty much intact.

But it turns out, “They definitely don’t retain 100% of their original properties.” Willard says all that moisture –yes skateboarders don’t hesitate to ride in the rain and plow through puddles – damages the wood.  “So (recycled skateboards) should not be used for anything that has to be load bearing.”   

Good to know.

Loferski adds,   “It’s also the fatigue, every time the skateboard is flexed back and forth it does slightly damage the wood, almost at the molecular level.”

OK, so maybe they can’t hold up a building when they’re re-engineered, but Willard says, they’re great for things like flooring and counter tops.

“Someone looking at a counter top made from recycled skateboards, probably wouldn’t even recognize it as (being made from a) recycled skateboard.  It’s more like just a repeated pattern of colored strips each half an inch wide just running across the countertop horizontally or vertically.”

And, no, when they’re re-engineered for re-use, there’s little trace they were ever part of a skateboar.  No curves from that top layer remain.  Those tipped up ends are cut off and parts of them can be cut further to make smaller, straight pieces.

Not only  are Willard and Lofersks recylcling a valuable material, Willard’ s research found that most of those inner plywood layers are made of maple, a valuable and durable wood,  but   they are also recycling an aesthetic; those cool looking colored layers become a a unique design element as well, though perhaps only a boarder might know what those colored stripes are doing there, and what they’ve been through.

Willard and Loferski also collaborated on technical paper, which was published in the online journal Recycling in May, 2018.

***Radio IQ is a service of Virginia Tech.

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.