When you get used to something, you start to take for granted. Yet only a generation or two ago it wasn’t like this. Many things that are part of our daily life, previously they weren’t. Nylon is a clear example. It was first introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 in the form of women’s tights, but the fiber really took off after second world war. Prior to 1945, cotton and wool dominated the market, but by the end of the war, synthetic fibers like nylon had eaten up 25% of the market share, and could be found in military supplies such as parachutes, ropes, tents and uniforms.
Nowadays we find it everywhere, but the incorrect use of this fiber entails a lot of problems of environmental pollution. Nylon is heavily used in making fishing nets, but often the fishermen leave their nets into the sea - The World Society for the Protection of Animals counted more than 600.000 tons net abounded every year. Three years ago also David Stover, Ben and Kevin Ahearn Kneppers realized it: dogged surfers, cutting through the waves they founded ocean increasingly polluted, used as an open dump.
Today, the trio is headed of Bureo, a Los Angeles-based start-up, which makes skateboard and sunglasses with recycled nylon picked up by Chilean fishermen. But how is nylon recycled? Unfortunately it’s one of the most durable materials, not subject to the biodegradation process and able to do by itself the 10% of oceans pollution. Moreover, according to Stephen Johnston, professor in plastic engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, the economics of recycling nylon are not very appealing. The recycling process is long, complex pus polymers, or plastics, are cheap to buy new. Contamination is another concern. Unlike metals and glass, which are melted at high temperatures, nylon is melted at a lower temperature, meaning some contaminants – non-recyclable materials and microbes or bacteria – can survive. This is why all nylons have to be cleaned thoroughly before the recycling process.
Despite this, Bureo is not the only company to practice the recycling of nylon. Of course, there are many cons, but there is a pro that stirs the conscience: the awareness of the need of more environmentally friendly business policies to curb the environmental problems in place. The Italian Aquafil with its CEO Giulio Bonazzi, after forty years spent producing carpets, chose to change course. In 2007, Aquafil began developing a machine that can churn through most kinds of nylons, producing new threads ready to be repurposed. In 2007 it began developing a machine able to mix together multiple types of nylon, and then resell the new (recycled) on the market. Today their best seller is Econyl, a wire sold to American companies and not, as the Speedo. Also the California-based Patagonia been adding more recycled nylon to its lineup: in some it’ss only a percentage, but their famous Torrentshell jackets are made from 100% recycled nylon. A beginning that seems more and more the future of the manufacturing sector.