What Exactly Is Recycled Nylon, And Is It Sustainable?

by: Courtney Sanders | 3 weeks ago | Features

Image: Details of a Baggu bag made from recycled nylon.

There are a lot of terms thrown around in the ethical fashion space without explanation, which makes it difficult to know what they are, and whether they’re actually reducing impacts when compared to their conventional alternatives. We sell recycled nylon products, so we think we should explain exactly what recycled nylon is and why we consider it sustainable, so you can make informed purchasing decisions.

We generally use two terms when talking about recycled nylon: recycled nylon and recycled PET (or RPET). While there are (very) technical differences between nylon and PET, the important things to know is that they’re both lightweight plastics derived from natural gas, oil, and coal; they’re both used a lot; and they’re both bad for the environment.

According to the Guardian, by 2050 plastic production and incineration will add 2.8bn metric tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, which is the equivalent of 615 new coal plants. This is largely due to the fact that ‘refining those raw materials into plastic is among the most energy- and carbon-intensive of all industrial processes.’ On top of this, plastic doesn’t break down easily, and nylon is responsible for 10% of all plastic in the ocean.

Why on earth do we consider recycled nylon sustainable then? It’s complicated.

The reason nylon has become so ubiquitous in clothing is because it is extremely practical for specific categories of clothing. For items like wetsuits, swimwear, and activewear, the compressing, stretchy, resilient, water resistant, and quick-drying nature of nylon makes it the obvious choice (for now).

Which is where recycled nylon comes in.

Because of the resource intense nature of producing nylon the fact that it doesn’t break down easily, it’s important to avoid using virgin nylon, and to give a second life to nylon to reduce its impact.

Econyl, a trademarked version of recycled nylon which turns nylon waste such as discarded fishing nets and turns it into recycled nylon used for clothing such as swimwear. Econyl estimates that every 10,000 tons of Econyl raw material saves 70,000 barrels of crude oil and avoids 65,100 tonnes of carbon emissions.

We look forward to technological advancements in this space that mean a fabrication with the same qualities as nylon can be produced with fewer resources and to biodegrade easily, but until then, when we need the qualities of nylon, we’re choosing recycled nylon (and always using a GuppyFriend bag when washing it, to avoid microfibre ocean pollution).

Here are some of our recycled nylon pieces:

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