Sustainability & Innovation: Eco-Nylon
Nylon's impact on the environment is yet another reminder of how synthetic fabrics can be harmful. Producing these materials uses up non-renewable petroleum sources, takes an incredible amount of energy and water to create them - all adding to a massive carbon footprint. They also often end up in landfills or break down into microplastics particles that are polluting our oceans, making nylon not just unsustainable but hazardous for nature too! Unfortunately only 1.9% of polyamides were recycled last year out of 5 million tonnes produced worldwide according to The Textile Exchange & Maia Research reports.
Sportswear, swimming gear, and outdoor apparel may be made from nylon due to its low cost as well as lightweight strength and resistance. However, times are changing; now is the perfect time for sustainable alternatives! According to this new report on fibre innovation suppliers and brand adopters of lower-impact materials like recycled or biodegradable fibers - these products boast similar benefits such as ease of care without sacrificing durability.
1- Recycled and regenerated nylon:
- Recycled Nylon: Recycled nylon is a revolutionary textile option that helps protect the planet. It requires far less oil, water and energy to produce than virgin fibre products, as it's made from pre-consumer factory scraps or post-consumer textiles - even old carpets or discarded fishing nets! Plus recycled nylon reduces land and water pollution through using ocean plastics. An amazing eco friendly choice.
- Considerations: Recycled yarn is a more sustainable and eco-friendly option, but it often comes with an additional cost due to the complex processing that must occur in order for it to be produced. As part of its production route, recycled fibers must remain separated from their virgin counterparts in order to maintain integrity through depolymerising and polymerising steps.
- Innovators: Sustainability has become an essential goal for many leading textile companies, who are now looking to use recycled fabrics in their collections. Among these is ECONYL Aquafil from Italy, Q-NOVA Fulgar of Spain , Renycle Radici and REPREVE Unifi from the USA, Meryl Nylstar and Mipan Regen Hyosung of South Korea as well CYCLEAD Toray and Sunyol Formosa from Japan & Taiwan respectively - all using innovative methods that provide eco friendly fabric options while maintaining quality standards.
- Market leaders: ECONYL and REPREVE Nylon 6 offer a sustainable alternative to traditional nylon fibers, made of recycled fishing nets, plastics, clothing waste and more. Not only do these innovative materials reduce CO2 emissions by up to 50%, they also bring greater durability and comfort - perfect for designing swimwear or hosiery! Meanwhile Meryl Recycled yarn from Invista's Canadian plant is crafted with 50% post-industrial fibre giving you the same high quality finish while still caring for the planet.
- How you can action this: If you're after a higher quality yarn, consider ECONYL: the planet-focused fiber that Outerknown champions for its coastal lifestyle brand. Their commitment to cleaner waters comes with an eco-friendly bonus – and their use of Econyl emphasizes this goal in truly meaningful ways.
2- Bio-based nylon:
Eco-friendly alternatives to petroleum oil-based standard nylons are gaining traction in many industries, with bio-polyamide yarns making up a small but growing portion of the total polyamide market. According to Maia Research, this niche sector accounts for 0.4% of their market share and is expected to increase annually as consumers become more conscious about sustainability issues.
- Bio-based nylon : Did you know there are renewable sources that can be used to create yarns with a reduced environmental impact? Alternatives like castor bean, corn, cassava, wheat and sugar feedstock provide an earth-friendly alternative to oil.
- Considerations: In order to safeguard their quality, recycled yarns are produced with extra care and attention. During the production process they must undergo delicate depolymerising and polymerising steps that can add to initial costs - separating them from standard nylon fibers. Nevertheless, these special procedures ensure that every fiber created is up-to-scratch.
- Innovators: The world of sustainable polymer production is rapidly expanding and evolving. A number of international companies, such as Dupont Sorona (USA), RadiciGroup Biofeel PA (Italy), EcoPaXX from DSM in the Netherlands, Japanese Toray's ECODEAR N510, Arkema in France and BASF from Germany are contributing to this exciting new field with innovative products that will help shape our future.
- Corn and caster oil: With sustainability at its core, Fulgar and Toray are introducing innovative fabrics to the forefront of fashion. To reduce their carbon footprint while still delivering high quality garments, both brands have designed fully renewable materials: Sorona Nylon by Fulgar which consists of 20% organic content and Ecodear N510 from Toray – a 100% plant-based nylon perfect for sports apparel that will scale up production significantly over the next 2 years.
- Biogas: BASF is revolutionizing the textile industry by producing Bio-Nylon yarns made out of a combination of renewable resources like biogas, bio-naphtha and plant oil. Even organic wastes are being used to make this sustainable fabric that could be part of your wardrobe in no time.
- How you can action this: Lululemon is investing strategically to help its nylon sourcing become more sustainable. It recently acquired a minority stake in the plant-based nylon business Genomatica, which currently accounts for half of all their synthetic usage. By doing so, they are taking steps towards creating an environmentally friendly supply chain.
3- Biodegradable Nylon:
- Biodegradable polyamide: Biodegradable polyamide makes garments decompose at lightning speed - instead of taking hundreds of years, they'll be gone in a matter of just months! Plus, this advanced biopolymer helps reduce the waste built up in anaerobic landfills.
- Considerations: Biodegradable nylon is a revolutionary new material with amazing environmental benefits - when disposed of correctly, it decomposes leaving no trace behind.
- Innovator highlight: Amni Soul Eco, a unique polyamide 6.6 from Fulgar SpA of Rhodia Solvay Group, is revolutionizing the way we think about waste disposal! Not only does it biodegrade in anaerobic landfills up to five times faster than traditional fibers - leading to less strain on natural resources and landfill sites alike – but this revolutionary material can even be used as fuel for electricity production through biomass and biogas cogeneration. This fibre uses less water to process, is 100% recyclable and reusable and is Oeko-Tex certified as a Standard 100 Class 1 yarn, making it safe and toxin-free. So, quick-dry and breathable, it can be used for lingerie, hosiery and underwear, denim, beach and sportswear.
- Brand adopters: Colmar, Aqua Vida, Australia's Bella Eco, Hawaiian active brand Lilikoi, US designer Mara Hoffman, LA's Frankies Bikinis, Brazilian label Baianá Eco, Mallorca brand Nakawe
- How you can action this: Biodegradable nylon presents an opportunity to boost your product strategy. Make sure purchasers understand the entire lifecycle of this material and how it should be disposed at its end-of life stage for maximum sustainability.
4- Embed traceability in the fibre:
- Challenges: It has become increasingly challenging for apparel companies to identify fibers in garments and ensure their onward circularity, especially with regards to synthetics. Unfortunately, lower-impact branded nylons are virtually indistinguishable from standard nylon counterparts without additional verification of sources - putting greater emphasis on the need for producers of speciality yarns to authenticate recycled content or bio-based feedstocks.
- Tracking nylon: Fulgar's Q-NOVA fibre is sourced through an Italian traceability system that has the special capability to track even one single ingredient in its polyamide nylon. Working towards making this technology available at a consumer level, Fulgar is developing a scanner and garment labelling system which will allow shoppers to identify recycled origins of their clothing purchase before buying it. Similarly, Unifi’s REPREVE fibre uses U TRUST program for verification via Fiber Print tracer technology – ensuring fibers are being properly used throughout the supply chain - safeguarding both fashion & textile brands from any potential violations or wrongdoings.
- How you can action this: Provide better transparency and protect your brand against false claims by ensuring lower-impact, specialty nylons are traceable. Doing so will help you meet the ever growing consumer demand for more information on their purchases.
5- Use third-party certification to evidence sustainability:
- Recycled fibre: Textile Exchangeʼs Global Recycled Standard (GRS) and Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) are dedicated to promote an environment-friendly way of manufacturing, by providing third-party certification for recycled content, chain of custody practices as well as chemical restrictions. With GRS & RCS in place, the production process will no longer be harmful to our planet.
- Bio-based: Customers can feel confident that they are doing their part for the environment when purchasing products with a USDA Certified BioPreferred label. The third-party certification ensures these items contain renewable biological ingredients - or in other words, planet-friendly stuff.
- Biodegradability: The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) is revolutionizing the sustainable waste management industry. Through verification of innovative products, BPI is striving to make large-scale composting easier and more efficient than ever before – without compromising on quality.
- Chemical compliance: REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) and ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Foundation) facilitate responsible management of the chemicals used in dyes, with Oeko-Tex, Bluesign, and GOTS all complying to their respected Manufacturing Restricted Substance List (MRSL) standards. This provides a global initiative that encourages sustainable industrial practices when it comes to chemical usage and dye regulations.
- How you can action this: With more eco-friendly synthetic fibers coming out all the time, investing in relevant standards and certifications will help you show your customers that their trust is well placed.
6- Action Points:
- Invest in lower-impact bio-nylons: Environmental sustainability is becoming an increasingly important factor in the fashion industry. To ensure that your clothing line has a positive impact on our planet, consider investing in bio-based and biodegradable fibers made from non-food crops or food waste instead of industrial scale food crops which tend to have higher greenhouse gas emissions. Supporting and advocating for more biodegradable textile infrastructure may be just what’s needed to help make eco-friendly apparel become more mainstream!
- Use recycled fibers to lower carbon emissions and reclaim waste: Proponents of recycled-content nylon claim it reduces CO2 emissions by as much as 50%. See where yarns made from post-consumer garment waste, factory scraps and old carpets, or ocean-bound plastic bottles and fishing nets, can save waste garments from landfill and the oceans from microplastics pollution
- Embed traceability into the fibre: Push the limits of transparency in nylon production. Work with fibre tracing solution providers and fabric innovators to tag, examine, and monitor all items from raw material to garment creation—and even post-consumer end of life disposal. Make sure your products are verified for their origin so that they stand a chance at being recycled or used again.
- Use third-party certification to evidence sustainability: Leverage third-party green certifications to showcase your company's commitment to sustainability and demonstrate that you're aligning values with product development. Technical help is available, as are industry frameworks – take advantage of them for a competitive edge in product differentiation and marketing.
7- The Sustainability Index: the opportunities and challenges of sustainable practice:
- Nylon presents an attractive opportunity to reduce our reliance on oil-based raw materials through sustainable, repeated recycling. By closing the loop of production with recycled nylon fibers, we can halve C02 emissions according to some leading suppliers in the industry.
- The recycling revolution is underway - generated nylon, an essential material for our daily lives, has found a sustainable new source: ocean-littering fishing nets and buoys. Discarded PET bottles, pre-consumer factory scraps and old carpets & clothing offer the perfect opportunity to repurpose waste that would otherwise be sent to landfill or linger in the oceans.
- Helping to bring sustainability into fashion, bio-based nylons provide a modern solution for reducing dependence on oil-derived fibers. These fashionable fabrics harness the power of food waste as an environmentally friendly raw material, allowing us to lower our environmental impact while wearing stylish clothing.
- With an increased focus on environmental friendliness, biodegradable nylon is emerging as a promising new material. This innovative creation can quickly decompose in aerobic landfills within five years - making it both sustainable and efficient.
- Specialty nylons are revolutionizing the fashion industry. Thanks to detailed traceability options, consumers now have a clear distinction from regular fibers and access to in-depth information about their products – from raw material authentication, all the way through production processes.
- Regenerated nylon may come with a bigger price-tag, manufacturers go through an extra effort to break down and rebuild plastic into brand new yarn.
- Despite the continued cost advantages of standard nylon, only a gradual increase in recycled fibre adoption has been seen. This suggests there is still much progress to be made towards more sustainable solutions.
- Companies will require a significant investment of resources to thoroughly evaluate new fabrics before they are added into the production cycle.
- To ensure top-notch quality, production of recycled nylon fibers needs to be kept independent from its virgin counterparts. This will help avoid any unfortunate blurring between the two materials.
- Nylon is often seen as a sustainable material, however some bio-based variations are not as eco-friendly. Some rely on industrial crops such corn which require large amounts of land to cultivate the crop and can result in greater carbon dioxide emissions. Careful consideration should be taken when selecting an option that's better for the environment.