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Waste to Wear: The Pathway to a Global Circular Economy

Images credit: Feel the Yarn

With global fiber consumption expected to reach 96.4 million tons by 2020, it has become apparent that a linear economy where we produce, consume and dispose of products after a one-time use is not sustainable. Through Aquafil’s various collaborations with carpet and apparel industries, we’ve noticed an increased trend towards the use of sustainable materials and fabrics in product manufacturing. Companies that are looking to move beyond recycled post-consumer waste are starting to shift towards suppliers that are taking a unique but sustainable approach to production, such as the implementation of closed-loop manufacturing systems.

Recognizing this trend, Aquafil created the ECONYL Regeneration System as an alternative solution for companies looking to manufacture products from fiber material, specifically Nylon 6, with a conscience. Many people are not aware that Nylon 6 is not only fully recyclable, it is the only fiber material that is actually upcyclable, in that it can be transformed into regenerated polymers an infinite number of times. Simply put, we are redirecting waste that would otherwise end up in landfills and oceans, and transforming the material back to original quality for use in the creation of new products.

Recognizing Environmental Responsibility

As a global manufacturer, Aquafil has always recognized the importance of being environmentally sustainable — and not just from a product standpoint. We chose to locate our headquarters in a region where strict environmental standards are in place, and have been tirelessly improving sustainability efforts in business operations and across our entire supply chain.

From 2012 to 2013, Aquafil decreased its output of disposed waste from 14.5kg* to 9.8kg* and reduced greenhouse gas emissions across all facilities. By 2013, we had eliminated more than 30,000 tons of nylon from global waste streams, allowing us to increase the post-consumer content in ECONYL from 30 percent in 2012 to a guaranteed minimum of 50 percent today. Depending on the available waste that can be used, some ECONYL products can even contain up to 60 percent post-consumer waste.


Aquafil's
Maria Giovanna Sandrini
will discuss the circular economy at SB '14 London

The environmental advantages of using ECONYL to manufacture new products can be proven through Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) calculations. In fact, when compared to petroleum alternatives, the production of nylon fiber using the ECONYL polymer results in 55 percent less greenhouse gas emissions and 54 percent less energy use. Each year we see a larger margin, which reassures us we are taking steps in the right direction in contributing to a circular economy.

Promoting Sustainability Through Collaboration

A prime example of how taking a circular approach to business practices can yield new opportunities and further drive a company’s sustainability goals is the Healthy Seas Initiative, which is aimed at recovering and recycling abandoned fishing nets from oceans. Aquafil founded this initiative with a Dutch NGO and sock company Star Sock in order to develop a sustainable system to promote marine protection and reduce ocean debris.

Aquafil plays a fundamental role in this initiative. By feeding the recovered marine waste through the ECONYL Regeneration System, ghost fishing nets are not only recovered from our seas but also become a useful resource for more sustainable product manufacturing. The regenerated ECONYL nylon yarn can be used to produce a wide range of textile products such as sportswear, swimwear and carpets.

Since its Spring 2013 launch, Healthy Seas volunteers have conducted 14 dives recovering more than 50 tons of fishing nets from the North Sea, garnering support from various brands within the industry such as Desso and Interface, among others. We are currently implementing two pilot projects along the Adriatic coastline and in the Mediterranean Sea — two regions that are heavily fished and contain the wreckage of countless vessels where nets tend to accumulate.

Looking Ahead

As we move into an increasingly circular world, there is a need to promote this emerging movement through discourse and engagement in industry events. In 2013, Aquafil joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's Circular Economy 100 program. The CE100 Acceleration Workshop, one of the program’s many events, is an example of a unique and exceptional platform for companies to address individual issues and receive input from those who have experienced similar problems. When 90 companies across countless industries come together to share concepts and identify solutions, it’s a beautiful thing. New and existing members engage in discussions about circular culture and exchange quality examples of companies that are successfully making the switch from linear to circular business practices. Together, companies can better address these global issues and work towards actionable solutions when we share the same beliefs and apply them to our business practices.

Over the past couple of years, Aquafil has achieved a number of important sustainability milestones that further demonstrate our commitment and efforts towards promoting a sustainable future. From launching the cross-sector “Healthy Seas, A Journey From Waste to Wear” initiative to becoming a member of Ellen MacArthur’s CE100 program, we continue to drive our sustainability strategy by adhering to the “Triple Bottom Line” approach, investing in business practices that promote social, environmental and economic sustainability.

*the numbers are referred to the ton of net production


Maria Giovanna Sandrini is the Brand and Corporate Communication Manager for the Aquafil Group, global producer of polyamide 6 and leader in the research of new production models for sustainable development. She is responsible for the development of brand awareness… [Read more about Maria Giovanna Sandrini]