Tuesday 27 September 2016

Riches From The Sea

We know that ocean plastic is a big problem. Sea creatures from fish all the way up to mammals like whales and dolphins suffer as they ingest or are entangled in our throwaways. Will the giant island of floating junk in the Pacific become a man-made monument to our wasteful ways?

As regular readers of the blog will know, there's another side to this story. Forward-thinking entrepreneurs are looking at the huge amount of plastics in our ocean as an opportunity rather than a problem. They want to harvest the stuff and make new items out of it.

One of the front runners in this race to the new frontier is Italian company Aquafil. For the last forty years, they have been leaders in nylon production. But you can't lead by looking backwards. The board of Aquafil have spent the last five years putting together a plan that could not just reinvigorate the company, but show the way to a holy grail of sustainable fashion.

In association with a team of university researchers and scientists, Aquafil have found a way to use nylon as the product of a closed-loop system. For late-comers, that's a process where the raw materials used to make something can be broken back down and reused. The process initially used old carpets, but the Aquafil team found that discarded fishing nets would work perfectly.

Along with other examples of industrial waste and fabric scraps, the process 'unzips' the important Nylon-6 molecules, enabling the production of brand new nylon that can be used in exactly the same way as fresh product. Better yet, this new yarn uses over 50% less energy and carbon dioxide emissions than polymers made using traditional methods.

The best bit? This is no pipe-dream or proof of concept. Aquafil fibre is already being used by brands like Levi's and Speedo. Scaling up the process can only get us closer to the ideal of a truly closed-loop system. More to the point, it also transforms waste like ocean plastic into a desirable commodity. I would not be surprised if an enterprising company is already setting up expeditions to go fishing for old nets and waste. It's estimated that there are 640,000 tons of fishing plastic discards up for grabs. There's gold in them there oceans.

For more, check out this Magnifeco story.

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