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Undergraduate research in SBIO on recycling wooden skateboards

February 2018 - By Mr. Dylan Willard and Dr. Joe Loferski

We have all watched the skateboarders zipping by us on campus and maybe even doing jumps or tricks but most of us have never looked closely at a skateboard and wondered how it is made, what it is made from and how it can be recycled into a new useful item.  

During the fall semester of 2017, sophomore Dylan Willard in the Sustainable Biomaterials Department, did an undergraduate research project investigating the possibilities for recycling skateboards. The skateboards are made from high quality maple plywood that is often dyed with beautiful colors as seen in the photographs. During Dylan’s project, he focused on studying the material properties of used skateboards and successfully made multiple samples of wood panels from recycled skateboards. Areas of study which Dylan focused on included measuring the stiffness (Modulus of Elasticity --MOE), stress at failure (Modulus of Rupture—MOR), moisture content, specific gravity, moisture durability, species identification, and methods of engineering new items from used and broken skateboards. All of his research was done at the Brooks Forest Products Center under the supervision of Dr. Joseph Loferski and Mr. David Jones, SBIO wood shop manager.

The exact number of skateboards manufactured annually is unknown, but it is estimated to be in the millions. For example, PS Sticks, a skateboard manufacturing company which produces skateboard decks for brands such as Element, FA, Welcome, Quasi, and Toy Machine, has been found to produce on average 300,000 skateboards a year. For serious skaters who do tricks and jumps, skateboards only last a few months before they break or deteriorate beyond use. The wheels or “trucks” are salvaged and installed on a new board but millions of used skateboard decks are discarded annually, ending up in landfills when, instead, they could be recycled. But beyond artistic or aesthetic purposes, a practical structural application has not been discovered for recycling skateboards.

Dylan, now 19 years old, has been skateboarding since the age of 14. After breaking his first skateboard and being forced to buy another, Dylan decided to keep the original broken deck. As time went on and he had been through multiple skateboards, Dylan inevitably decided to keep them all. After 5 years of skateboarding, Dylan decided it was finally time to put all of his old skateboards to use and wanted to use them in a practical fashion. After consulting with Dr. Loferski, they formulated a research project to investigate the material properties of skateboards for use as a sustainable recyclable material.

Currently, Dylan is preparing a manuscript to submit his findings to a technical journal, hoping to spark ideas in others who may also pursue this area of study. Dylan is optimistic about his next years at Virginia Tech to continue his research on the possibilities of recycling skateboards and is also looking into conducting research in different fields within his department.