Aquafil SpA ECONYL® nylon
A new regenerated nylon, ECONYL®, is a powerful demonstration of circularity in action.
What we know
Aquafil SpA is based in Italy and specialises in the production and distribution of fibres and polymers. Yarn for garments is one of its three business strands.
The company has a clear strategy to transform the entire business from linear to circular because it sees this as the only way to prosper and keep up with the challenges of a rapidly changing market.
An important part of this is to switch from ‘take raw materials, produce products and throw them once they are no longer useful’ to ‘take waste, produce products and recover what would be destined for landfill’.
One recent initiative led to the development of ECONYL®, a regenerated nylon made entirely from nylon waste – such as fishing nets, fabric scraps, old carpets destined for landfills – with the same performance of the nylon produced by oil.
ECONYL® nylon has the potential to be recycled infinitely, without ever losing its quality.
What we’re doing
The journey began with the realisation that Nylon 6 could be endlessly regenerated.
After researching waste that contained a high enough percentage of the material, Aquafil began with waste from its clients in the carpet sector. Several take-back programs were established to collect the face fibres from carpets. A subsequent discovery by the company’s reclaiming managers was that fishing nets – those from the fishing industry, especially – are excellent material for ECONYL® fibre.
The potential of other waste materials, such as plastic components and fabrics scraps, was discovered after. The R&D team’s experimentation with new materials that might be suitable for regeneration remains ongoing.
The ECONYL® Regeneration System was established which starts with rescuing nylon waste worldwide. This is then sorted and cleaned to recover as much nylon as possible.
A radical regeneration and purification process is then applied to recycle the nylon waste back to its original purity. ECONYL® regenerated nylon is therefore exactly the same as fossil-based nylon. The regenerated nylon is then processed into yarns and polymers for the fashion and interior industries.
Another project the company is working on regards the reduction of microplastics and microfibres that continues to be a challenge. There are no methodologies that are scientifically accepted and used as standard. To combat this, Aquafil tries to avoid products where the treatment by consumers releases excess microfibres and the company also started a project with an Italian research institute to create a system and share it with the EU to be adopted as a standard methodology.
It has been difficult to measure the impacts of nylon and plastics over the years and that’s why the company partnered with research institutes to ensure that nylon emissions were not dangerous to humans from a scientific perspective.
What it’s worth
The system established to regenerate nylon waste into brand new ECONYL® regenerated nylon is a powerful example of circularity in action.
For every 10,000 tonnes of ECONYL® raw material, the company saves 70,000 barrels of crude oil and avoids 65,100 tonnes of CO2 eq. emissions. ECONYL® nylon also reduces the global warming impact of nylon by up to 90% compared with the material from oil.
Today, big-name brands including Stella McCartney, Zoggs, Tommy Hilfiger, Prada, O’Neill, Mammut, Longchamp, H&M, Burberry, and Adidas use ECONYL® fibers.
Moving forward, Aquafil is committed to further promoting and supporting its partners in what it calls ‘eco-design’. This involves investing more in the early phase of the design process, where designers have to choose the sustainable ingredient to use in final goods in order to make those products recyclable at the end of their usage.
Our commitment starts from rethinking and redesigning the business processes and products from a circular perspective, by considering waste as a precious resource to be recycled and by finding innovative solutions to meet the challenges of the world in an era of constant change. My wish would be to make the world a better place by pioneering closed loop regeneration processes and delivering sustainable products, which actually is part of the ECONYL® brand vision.Giulio Bonazzi CEO Aquafil