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The Alchemy of Econyl

Technology today has allowed for the innovation of mind boggling advances in the world of manufacturing textiles, especially from a sustainability point of view. If you’ve been following us for a while you know that our bags and coats at BEDI are made from a product called Econyl, which is made from regenerated fishnets, recycled carpet fibers, and other old nylon bits and pieces to create the durable fabric that we have come to know and love. But have you ever wondered what the behind the scenes looks like to get a wet, fishy smelling piece of garbage to become so clean and polished?

 

tattooed hands displaying sorts of fishing nets

 

So have we. Today we are going to breakdown the process from start to finish, answering the question we all have about Econyl: how is it made?

Before we answer the question of “how?”, it’s important to address the question of “why?” Econyl is a solution to a problem - the problem being nylon. Nylon was originally produced by the American Dupont association in the ‘20s and blew up when the demand for production of *everything* increased during WW2. In the ‘70s the environmental movement brought to light the problem of synthetic fibers, and as time went on people became less and less satisfied with nylon as it is very flammable and easy to tear. This lead to the creation of Econyl, which is stretchy when woven, relatively tough, and easy to weave into tightly knit garments and industrial textiles.

The first step to creating a material made of recycled nylon is to source used nylon to recycle. Aquafil is a global leader in the synthetic fibers industry, and are who we source our Econyl from. Aquafil recycles two large pullutors to create their Econyl - carpets, and fishing nets. 

Carpets

In the US Alone, 4 billion pounds of carpets are discarded into landfills annually - that is a lot of waste for us to work with. Aquafil has two facilities that each process up to 36 million pounds of carpet annually, one in Phoenix, AZ and one in Woodland, CA. Once these fibers have been thoroughly cleaned and prepared, they are sent to a facility where they will be transformed into Econyl. 

Fishing Nets 

a young turtle caught in fishing nets and plastic can holders inside the ocean

Aquafil is one of the founding partners of The Healthy Seas Foundation. The organization’s goal is to remove all derelict fishnets responsible for needless deaths and the destruction of marine life. Volunteer “ghost” divers retrieve this marine waste coming from the fish farming and fishing industries in a gentle way that does not disrupt marine life. The fishnets are then cleaned, sorted, and sent to a regeneration plant.

These regeneration plants can be found all over the world. Econyl was first produced in Italy, which is how it became a material that is well known and often used in many big fashion houses coming out of Europe. Now, it is produced all over the world, however Aquafil’s plant is in Slovenia where there are strict regulations and labour laws protecting the environment and the workforce. 

 Now… What happens in these regeneration plants?

Creating Econyl - Step by Step

     1. Depolymerization

This is a chemical processes essentially reversing and breaking down the molecular structure of the existing nylon polymer into a monomer state.

- Polymer means a chemical compound made of small molecules to form a larger molecule

- Monomer means a molecule that can be bonded to other identical molecules to form a polymer 

     2. Rendering

The recycled nylon is rendered (aka melted) down into a “molten state”

      3. Extrusion

This substance is then extruded through a metal spinneret (think of lava being extruded from a volcano). Once cooled down a little bit, this process leaves the molten nylon in a shape that looks more like thread.

     4. Loading

 It is then loaded onto a type of spool called a bobbin (any of our DIYers or sewers out there know what this is)

     5. Stretching

These fibers are then stretched to increase their strength and elasticity. 

     6. Drawing

They are then wound onto another spool in a process called “drawing” 

     7. Spinning

The Econyl fibers can then be spun into yarn, treated with chemicals, and dyed.

     8. Weaving

It is then ready to be woven into consumer apparel (knit loosely to be stretchy, woven tightly to be used industrially - this is where you turn the Econyl into whatever you want!)

display of multicolored rolls of recycled fishing net material

Because this process does not involve the creation of any nylon, it requires no fossil fuel based materials.

If nylon isn’t recycled, it’s estimated to take between 30-40 years to degrade, and it is just one example of a synthetic material that is consistently being created and discarded into the ocean and landfills regularly. By finding ways to create new things from upcycled materials, we are taking a more mindful approach to innovation and “newness” and protecting our planet in the process.

 

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