Is Recycled Nylon Sustainable? 15 Eco Pros and Cons

April 22, 2023

Want to know how sustainable recycled nylon is? Spoiler - it’s about as eco-friendly as it gets. 

Mechanically recycled nylon has been rated Class A in the Made-By sustainable fabrics review. That’s the top rank, placing it alongside fabrics like organic linen, organic hemp, and recycled wool. 

We all want to do our part for the planet and live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Fashion is one industry which is particularly resource intensive and environmentally damaging. 

That’s why fabrics like recycled nylon are gaining traction. As companies look for new and innovative ways to be more sustainable, the demand for recycled nylon is growing. 

But just how sustainable is recycled nylon really? 

Let’s take a closer look and explain all of the advantages and disadvantages of recycled nylon. Will it live up to its eco-friendly reputation? 

is recycled nylon sustainable

Is recycled nylon sustainable? 

Yes, recycled nylon is considered a very sustainable material. It’s certainly much better for the planet than regular fabrics like virgin nylon, polyester or even regular cotton

One of the key advantages of recycled nylon is that it requires significantly less energy and resources to produce than virgin nylon.

In fact, recycled nylon uses up to 90% less water and 50% less energy than producing virgin nylon. Econyl is probably the most well known recycled nylon manufacturer. 

Recycled nylon is also made from waste materials that would otherwise end up in landfill or in the oceans. Around 10% of plastic waste in our oceans is waste nylon fishing equipment. 

That works out to around 640,000 tons of abandoned fishing equipment entering the oceans every year, the equivalent weight of more than 50,000 double decker buses. 

In comparison, virgin nylon is made from non-renewable crude oil and fossil fuels. Recycled nylon minimises the need for new resource extraction. 

Cariki recycled polyester T-Shirt

What are the advantages of recycled nylon:

There are many advantages of recycled nylon, including:

  1. No fossil fuels: regular nylon is made from fossil fuels, whereas recycled nylon is made from waste nylon that is recycled into new fabric. 
  2. Reduces landfill waste: recycled nylon stops waste nylon from entering landfill or the oceans, and instead turns it into clothing you can wear. 
  3. Reduced CO2: recycled nylon has been estimated to produce about 50% less CO2 compared to regular nylon.
  4. Promotes a circular economy: turning discarded fishing nets, carpets, bottles and waste fabric into new clothes helps promote a circular economy. It forces fashion brands to think about sustainable alternatives. As more people become aware of the environmental impact of their clothing choices, demand increases for sustainable products. 
  5. Lower water consumption: in comparison to regular nylon, recycled nylon uses up to 90% less water.
  6. Less energy: recycled nylon uses 50% less energy to produce vs. regular nylon. This helps conserve resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 
  7. Durability and strength: both recycled nylon and regular virgin nylon are incredibly durable, making it perfect for a wide range of clothing options. From clothing to outdoor gear to automotive parts, recycled nylon’s strength makes it a key benefit. 
  8. Greater transparency and ethics: recycled nylon manufacturers are typically more transparent, with sustainability heart and centre of their agenda. As a result, they look after their employees, which sadly can’t be said for all fast fashion retailers. 
  9. Reduced water pollution: as a result of their sustainable agenda, manufacturers are normally more careful about waste and pollution. Again, this can be very different to regular clothing factories. 
  10. Can be recycled again: recycled nylon has the potential to be recycled and repurposed continuously, unlike other materials which can degrade with each recycling cycle. Once the material has reached the end of its useful life, it can be broken down and reused. 

The advantages of recycled nylon are clear, and this makes it a perfect material for reducing fashion's environmental impact. 

Before you go out and buy recycled nylon clothes, there are some disadvantages that you should know about. 

recycled nylon sustainable benefits

What are the disadvantages of recycled nylon?

There are several disadvantages of using recycled nylon. These cons have stopped recycled nylon from becoming mainstream. One of the key disadvantages is price:

  1. More expensive: recycled nylon is more expensive than regular nylon. This is a key disadvantage that has stopped many retailers adopting the fabric. To recycle nylon, the fabric is first melted. Due to the low melting temperature, impurities and germs can survive this process. This means it needs to be thoroughly cleaned before it can be recycled, especially if it has been dragged along the seafloor. It’s a costly procedure. Regular nylon remains cheap in comparison, which is why most brands stick with the less sustainable option. 
  2. Not biodegradable: as recycled nylon is a man made fabric, it is not biodegradable. Sadly most of this synthetic fabric ends up in landfills or in the ocean, where it stays. An enormous 10% of plastic waste in our oceans is wasted or abandoned fishing equipment made from nylon.
  3. Limited availability: whilst demand for recycled nylon is slowly increasing, supply of recyclable waste material isn’t always consistent. This might challenge production as it scales. 
  4. Microplastic shedding: a major downside of all synthetic materials is the fact they shed microplastics when they are washed. Use net wash bags that trap microplastics. 
  5. Chemical use: To recycle nylon often involves the use of chemicals such as acids and solvents to break down the waste materials. If not properly managed, these chemicals can be harmful to humans and the environment. Chemically recycled nylon has a B ranking in the Made-By fabric review. This is compared to mechanically recycled, which was given an A grade. 

These disadvantages of recycled nylon should be considered, however they are outweighed by the pros of this eco friendly fabric. 

Want to read more? 

What are the pros and cons of regular nylon

What is recycled nylon? The facts you should know

What are the pros and cons of recycled polyester fabric?

Which fabrics are the most sustainable? Is it recycled, or organic?

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