Sustainability of Nylon
Nylon was the first synthetic fiber made in the late 1930s, and its popularity has continued to grow over the decades. Nylon is most commonly used for its desirable clothing properties of elasticity in underwear and denim as well as its water-repellency for swimsuits and sportswear.
Nylon belongs to the group of synthetic polyamides. It is a plastic-based material sourced from fossil fuels and uses a lot of water and energy resources. In addition, its low resistance to heat requires further chemical processing to enhance this limitation. Furthermore, the polyamide production process releases nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas which tremendously impacts global warming. These harmful releases also negatively impact the health of workers and the community populations nearby industrial sites. Moreover, polyamide in not biodegradable and its use releases microplastics into the environment.
On a positive note, polyamides are recyclable. The waste used can either come from pre-consumer nylon such as garment scraps or post-consumer waste such as discarded clothing. Among post-consumer recycled nylon-based goods, textiles, such as clothing or furniture, and fishing nets are the most commonly produced. Recycling nylon diverts the use and overuse of resources and reduces overall emissions as well as supports the repurposing of unwanted materials.
Nonetheless, the recycling processes of nylon – whether chemical-based or mechanical-based – continue to have their disadvantages; the chemical process uses hazardous chemicals while the mechanical process is water-intensive.
Currently, exact figures related to recycled nylon are not publicly available. According to the Textile Exchange organization, companies are using recycled nylon as a more sustainable alternative in their products. Econyl and Q-Nova are two examples of companies which have specialized in the recycling of nylon.
For more information:
Opperskalski, S., Siew, S., Tan, E., & Truscott, L. (2020). Preferred fiber & materials market report 2020. Textile Exchange. Retrieved from: https://textileexchange.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Textile-Exchange_Preferred-Fiber-Material-Market-Report_2020.pdf
“Material Guide : How sustainable is Nylon ?” Ashlee Uren 31st August 2020 good on you https://goodonyou.eco/material-guide-nylon/
“The truth about Polyamide Fabric”, Alex Assoune panaprium https://www.panaprium.com/blogs/i/polyamide-fabric
“Recycled Nylon” Patagonia 2021 https://www.patagonia.com/our-footprint/recycled-nylon.html
“Recycled Nylon” 2020 Sustain your style https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/recycled-nylon-