Material Matter: Clean, Regenerated Nylon
Nylon is loved for its soft feel, light-weight manner and stretch. Unfortunately it is known as one of the most polluting textiles in the world with the release of hazardous chemicals during manufacturing and its inability to biodegrade. Meet Econyl®, a clean, regenerated nylon that recycles some of the 640,000 tonnes of abandoned fishing nets left in our oceans.
For the past forty years the Italian company Aquafil, located in the picturesque Dolomites, has been involved in the production of a nylon. In 2006 Aquafil’s president and CEO, Giulio Bonazzi met Interface’s Ray Andersen and was inspired to reinvent Aquafil’s supply chain and transform the business. After five years of research and development, and twenty-five million Euros, Aquafil initiated the first manufacturing plant dedicated to the production of regenerated nylon fibers: Econyl.
It took a team of engineers from universities and institutions around the world, together with Aquafil’s associates, to create a closed loop system (materials are consistently reused rather than discharged as waste) that unveiled nylon’s ability to be regenerated an infinite amount of times without a depreciation of the materials quality. With this system, it is now possible to transform pre and post-consumer waste into a first grade raw material.
Aquafil started by collecting old carpets when they launched their Econyl Reclaiming Program, an effort to recover waste from around the world. They then discovered using fishing nets, abandoned in the ocean or from the fish farming industry, would also be valuable. Over time they began additional initiatives to collect waste materials including plastic components, fabric scraps, and other industrial waste. After collection, the waste is put through the Econyl Regeneration System where it undergoes a chemical process to “un-zip” the Nylon 6 molecules. With this process the waste is converted back into a raw material which is then transformed into brand new nylon 6 polymers, identical to those made from fossil fuels.
The sustainability of this material is unmatched. Aquafil was able to conduct life cycle assessments (assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life from cradle to grave) throughout the entire regeneration process from waste collection to the creation of their new raw materials- the findings are outstanding:
- Econyl yarn consumes approximately 47% less energy and more than 50% less CO2 emissions compared to its traditional fiber.
- For every 10,000 tons of Econyl raw material produced, 12,600 tons of waste are eliminated, 70,000 barrels of crude oil are saved, 865,000 GJ of total process energy are saved, and 42,000 tons of CO2 emissions are avoided.
Aquafil is using this technology to work with businesses and NGO’s to create new opportunities for waste diversion and help advance other companies’ sustainability agendas. They have found a way to regenerate a historically damaging material; moving beyond basic recycling to create a truly circular process. Popular brands that have adopted the Econyl material into their designs include Levis, Speedo, Outerknown, and more.