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  • Writer's pictureEmma Bottomley

Unwinding Nylon

How well do you know your #fabrics?

In this week's article I explore nylon.

You probably know nylon through your underwear and tights drawer! Though it’s also commonly used in athleisure wear.

Nylon was the first ever fabric to be produced in a laboratory, it represents the dawning of the age of synthetics. It came about as a solution to replace stockings made of silk that were prone to snag and run. World War II changed everything for nylon as an industry, the US military realised it was vulnerable to problems with silk production from Japan and thanks to nylon’s strength and durability they found its use could be extended to military products including parachutes, tents, ropes and tyres. Its use is still widespread today - everywhere from conveyor belts and parachutes to carpets and also clothing.

How well do you know it’s eco credentials? They are not good. If you look at the Made by Environmental Trademark for fibres, virgin nylon ranks amongst the worst of the fibres, alongside rayon, spandex, wool, generic viscose and conventional cotton.

What makes it so bad?

Nylon is a type of plastic derived from crude oil. Whilst these plastic based fibres use little agricultural land, they can still cause significant damage to the environment. Nylon is not biodegradable, so when you no longer need your tights, they can remain as landfill for hundreds of years. It is also dependent on the petrochemical industry for the raw material - meaning it’s reliant on fossil fuel extraction. The plastic is put through an intensive chemical process, resulting in the strong stretch fibres that make it useful as a fabric.

In addition to not being biodegradable, nylon has several other direct detrimental impacts to the planet;

Greenhouse gases; nylon creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Water; manufacturing nylon requires large amounts of water that are used for cooling the fibres, which can be a source of environmental contamination and pollution.

Energy; manufacturing nylon contributes to environmental degradation and global warming as it consumes a lot of energy in its processing.

Microfibre pollution; Microfibre pollution is the release of synthetic fibres from the laundry into the natural environment and nylon significantly contributes to this.

However, there are a number of manufacturers and suppliers of nylon products that are made more sustainably. Econyl is one such company creating a form of nylon made entirely from post-consumer waste products including abandoned fishing nets, carpets and rigid textiles in a closed-loop system and aims to be a green alternative to the original product. It has been embraced by the likes of Stella McCartney, Finisterre and others.

Our verdict?

Whilst remembering that any plastic-derived fibre - even recycled - can contribute to microfiber pollutants if you are going to use nylon in your clothes then make ethical choices. Econyl could be a better option for you to consider.


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