What Is Econyl Material?
Econyl is a material similar to nylon that is made entirely from recycled waste products.
Old fishing nets and carpets, among other abandoned textiles, are used to make this recycled fabric, which was conceived as a greener alternative to traditional nylon.
Econyl is generally quite tough, like nylon, and can easily be woven into everything ranging from garments to industrial textiles.
This fiber is recognized for being quite stretchy when it is woven, though it is not elastic in its raw form.
While elasticity is one of its main draws, unfortunately, econyl generally lacks durability and is not moisture-wicking.
Another downfall of econyl is that it is highly flammable, melts if it catches fire, and can even melt when washed at very high temperatures.
What Is Econyl Fabric?
Econyl is an alternative to nylon made from waste products.
Normally, nylon has a significantly detrimental environmental impact, but the creators of Econyl seek to help reduce the effects of this fabric on the environment by using recycled base materials.
Recycled Swimwear FAQs
How Is Econyl Fabric Used?
Econyl fiber is equally used in apparel and industrial applications.
The most common industrial application of Econyl is carpeting, but this fiber is also used to make ropes, lines, and other types of industrial products that are otherwise made with nylon.
Where Is Econyl Fabric Produced?
Aquafil has not disclosed where it currently produces Econyl fabric.
This company has a variety of locations in Italy and beyond, and it’s possible that Econyl is produced at any number of these facilities.
It’s clear, however, that one of Aquafil’s facilities was opened specifically to produce Econyl fabric.
This company’s Ljubljana, Slovenia Econyl Plant opened in 2011, and while current data are not available, it’s safe to assume that Aquafil continues to produce Econyl at this facility.
How Much Does Econyl Fabric Cost?
Current pricing information on Econyl is not available.
This material is only available in bulk from Aquafil, which makes acquiring pricing data difficult.
According to Mr. Bonazzi, driving costs of Econyl down is essential to Aquafil’s business model.
Therefore, it’s reasonable to expect that Econyl is priced similarly to nylon. Even if this sustainable fabric is more expensive than nylon at present, costs will normalize as Econyl becomes more popular.
What Different Types of Econyl Fabric Are There?
Econyl Carpet Fiber
While Econyl textile fiber has received a lot of acclaim in the textile industry, many environmentally conscious consumers are unaware that this fabric is also highly popular in carpeting applications.
Aquafil has partnered with a variety of carpet producers around the world, and Econyl is rapidly supplanting traditional nylon as the carpet fiber of choice for many major companies.
Econyl Textile Fiber
The nylon 6 yarn used to make Econyl textile fiber is highly similar to the yarn used to make Aquafil’s carpet fiber, but this company’s textile fiber is softer and more fit for clothing applications.
Like normal nylon, this apparel fiber can be dyed and treated with flame retardants and other important treatments.
How Does Econyl Fabric Impact the Environment?
The environmental benefits of Econyl are questionable.
While it’s clear that this recycled fabric is less impactful on the environment than traditional nylon, it doesn’t solve all the environmental issues associated with this notoriously polluting fabric.
First, let’s cover the environmental issues that Econyl solves.
The production of this fabric involves taking waste that would have otherwise taken decades or centuries to biodegrade and making it into usable fabric.
This practice saves nylon products from the landfill and the oceans, and it helps reduce the contribution of microfibers to the water supply.
Econyl also solves the issues associated with new nylon production. The main constituent of traditional nylon is hexamethylenediamine, which is a fossil fuel derivative.
Environmentalists decry the detriments of fossil fuel products on the environment, but petroleum-derived fabrics, such as nylon, are just as impactful on the environment in slightly different ways.
Acquiring crude oil and coal is harmful to local ecosystems, and the refinement of fossil fuels introduces various toxic substances into the environment.
Additionally, the processes used in hexamethylenediamine isolation and nylon production produce further toxic substances that are rarely disposed of effectively.
By using recycled materials, Econyl production bypasses the environmentally detrimental aspects of nylon production.
Like nylon, however, Econyl is frequently dyed, and most apparel dyes are toxic and harmful to both humans and the environment.
What Econyl production doesn’t solve, however, is the inherent non-biodegradability of nylon.
Like all other fossil fuel-derived fabrics, Econyl is not biodegradable, and the recycled origins of this textile have no bearing on this fact.
Just like nylon, discarded Econyl fabrics collect in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and they contribute to the microfiber crisis that is rapidly reducing agricultural and drinking water quality around the globe.
While natural fabrics, such as cotton and wool, biodegrade within a number of years, scientists aren’t sure exactly how long it will take for synthetic fabrics to biodegrade.
However, the most widely accepted estimates put the biodegradability window of synthetic fabrics at 100-1,000 years.
Long after mankind stops producing synthetic fabrics, these textiles will continue to clog our ecosystems and contribute to ecological catastrophes.
The production of nylon is highly toxic.
While it’s possible to produce nylon without harming workers, most nylon production takes place in third-world countries in which worker protection regulations are scarce, and international corporations drive wages as low as possible.
Information on the Econyl website regarding the processes used to make Econyl is vague.
According to the producers of this material, a “radical regeneration and purification process” is used to transform waste vinyl into Econyl, which seems to indicate that the nylon is melted down and reformed into fibers. It is unclear whether this process produces waste products.
History Of Econyl
Founded in 1956, Aquafil, based in Trento, Italy has a long history of manufacturing.
In 2008 the company decided to add an energy and recycling division with chairman with CEO Giulio Bonazzi stating “Either you become sustainable or you will have to exit from the business”. Three years later, Econyl hit the market.
Econyl is a trademark of the Italian plastics company Aquafil.
This company has also produced a variety of other textiles and industrial plastics, but it is most well-known for developing Econyl fabric.
Inspired by the environmental crisis caused by synthetic fibers, the creators of Econyl sought to devise an alternative to nylon that doesn’t harm ecosystems.
Nets are one of the most common industrial applications of nylon, and this fiber is also used in a variety of other maritime applications.
Additionally, much of the nylon waste that consumers discard ends up in the ocean.
This non-biodegradable nylon waste harms sea turtles, dolphins, and other aquatic creatures, and it gradually builds up until it creates islands of plastic that grow year by year.
Nevertheless, the consumer demand for nylon continued unabated, and at some point, Aquafil, which was already an established synthetic textile producer in Italy, recognized the profit potential that all the nylon waste in the oceans posed.
Starting in 2010 or 2011, Aquafil started looking into the idea of producing an environmentally sustainable alternative to nylon using aquatic nylon waste material, and production of this new textile fiber began in late 2011.
The story of Econyl is built on the history of nylon.
This textile was originally produced by the American DuPont Corporation in the early 1920s, but it didn’t enter into high-volume production until the beginning of World War II.
During the war, materials for parachutes and other textile-based war materiel were scarce, and domestic producers turned to synthetic alternatives to silk, cotton, and other natural fibers. By 1945, nylon and other synthetic textiles commanded over 25 percent of the textile market in the USA.
During the postwar era, nylon became popular as an alternative to silk for stockings, and other applications of this stretchy, abrasion-resistant textile were rapidly discovered.
Over time, however, consumers recognized that the marketing hype surrounding nylon was largely unfounded; far from being “stronger than steel,” nylon was relatively easy to tear, and this fabric’s flammability quickly became cause for concern.
Early forms of nylon would occasionally even revert to coal and water with limited heat application.
With the birth of the environmental movement in the 1970s, public blowback against synthetic fabrics reached a fever pitch.
While this antagonistic consumer attitude toward nylon and other synthetic fabrics has lost its shrillness over the years, consumers remain disenchanted toward synthetic fibers, and this dissatisfaction with existing synthetic fiber options eventually led to the market demand that precipitated the development of Econyl.
The Econyl Production Process
Aquafil has not disclosed the exact processes it uses to make Econyl.
The only information available details a vague process of capturing nylon waste, subjecting it to depolymerization, and reconstitution of the resulting material into nylon yarn.
Since this process does not involve the production of nylon polymer, no fossil fuel base materials are required.
However, the fact that “depolymerization” is an aspect of Econyl production indicates that chemical processes are used to break down existing nylon polymer into a monomer state before it is reconstituted into a polymer.
Apparently, this process is undertaken to remove any impurities from existing nylon fiber, and it’s unclear whether the production of Econyl involves reacting diamine acid with adipic acid as is the case in normal nylon production.
It’s likely, however, that the constituents of the recycled nylon are rendered down into a molten polymer state, extruded through spinnerets, drawn, and loaded onto bobbins.
From this stage, the Econyl fiber can be spun into yarn, treated with chemicals, and dyed.
It is then ready to be woven into consumer apparel.
To make Econyl, waste products such as reclaimed fishing nets are first taken to pretreatment facilities where they are sorted and shredded into pieces small enough to be put through the Econyl process.
The shredded material is then moved to a regeneration plant where they are put into huge chemical reactors that, through a process of de and re – polymerization break down the components of the material and re-generate the polyamide 6.
The final product is then processed into yarn.
Econyl has great eco-friendly credentials; the use of abandoned fishing nets helps to clean up the seas where entanglement in abandoned nets causes the death of many thousands of whales, dolphins and other sea life every year.
For every 10,000 tonnes of raw materials recycled into Econyl 70,000 barrels of crude oil are saved, and 57,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions are avoided compared to traditional production methods.
Econyl fabrics can be recycled infinitely without losing quality, supporting the vision of a more circular fashion industry.
As Econyl has all the properties of traditionally made Nylon 6, it has the same wide range of uses.
Big clothing brands such as Adidas, H&M and La Perla, plus numerous others have already started to use Econyl in a range of clothing including swimwear, underwear, and sportswear.
It also has applications within the home, with companies such as Forbo Flooring and carpet concept using it in their production processes.
Sustainability Of Econyl
Econyl is a strong asset to the already existing spectrum of sustainable materials. This textile offers eco-friendly properties from start to finish, which supports the vision of a more circular fashion industry.
Nylon typically has a detrimental impact on the environment, but by using recycled materials to make econyl, the impact is drastically reduced.
For starters, using abandoned fishing nets to make econyl helps to clean up the oceans.
Thousands of whales, dolphins, and other sea creatures die each year from entanglement in abandoned nets.
By sourcing old nets from ocean waters to produce econyl, this rate of incidence is reduced.
The production process of econyl also offers significant environmental benefits.
For every metric ton of caprolactam—the organic compound required to create the fabric—produced in the econyl process, 16.2 gigajoules of energy and seven barrels of oil are saved, while 1.1 metric tons of waste are eliminated and 4.1 metric tons of CO2 emissions are avoided, in comparison to traditional production methods for nylon.
Econyl fabrics can also be recycled continuously without losing their quality, which reduces further waste caused by discarded fabrics and clothing.
Econyl Vs. Nylon
Nylon is an entirely synthetic fiber that has its roots in WWII, emerging from a desire to find alternatives to silk for parachutes during the war.
After the armed conflict, there was a shortage of traditional dress fabrics like silk and cotton, so nylon soon found another use and quickly gained popularity as a fabric for women’s garments.
Due to a number of issues with nylon, however, manufacturers began to mix nylon with other fabrics to make more durable garments.
Econyl is chemically identical to nylon 6, meaning that it shares the same characteristics as everyday nylon and can essentially be used in the same way that nylon is used.
Like nylon, econyl is stretchy and can be used in tights, swimsuits, and athletic wear, among other apparel.
The difference between the two fabrics lies in how they are produced. The production process of nylon results in a relatively negative impact on the environment, creating a toxic greenhouse gas known as nitrous oxide.
The production process also uses large amounts of water and consumes significant energy.
On top of that, nylon isn’t biodegradable, which means that it ultimately contributes to large amounts of waste, while econyl can be recycled.
The Bottom Line
The producers of Econyl present their product as being part of a renewable cycle.
According to Aquafil, the production of this fabric salvages nylon waste, repurposes it into nylon fiber, transforms this fiber into textile products, and then recaptures these products for recycling.
However, it is unreasonable to assume that the producers of Econyl can recapture every Econyl fabric product for repurposing. In reality, the product model for this fabric more likely resembles a process in which a small portion of the world’s nylon waste is recaptured, made into Econyl products, and then discarded.
Unless Aquafil truly recaptures every Econyl product made, this fabric is nearly as harmful to the environment as normal nylon.
The only difference is that Econyl production captures a tiny amount of global nylon waste and transforms it into new fibers.
Until Econyl production overtakes the production of new nylon, the overall environmental benefits of this textile will remain negligible even though they are inherently highly positive.