Nylon is an interesting synthetic material. Part of what makes it so is its versatility. As a synthetic, polymer-based thermoplastic, it can be processed into a wide range of products.
This includes flexible materials like industrial and wearable fabrics, from parachutes to swimwear. It can also be used to make strong, solid, heavy duty fasteners, such as nylon flat washers and spacers in standard and special sizes.
Nylon’s strength and resilience is beneficial for creating long-lasting products, but what happens when these products end up being discarded? The result is waste that simply does not break down in a natural environment. Nylon debris makes up a considerable amount of plastic pollution on land and in marine environments.
This is why nylon recycling is a worthy pursuit. It’s a way to reclaim a valuable and enduring material that can be put to good use as new products. Any steps that can be taken to reduce the amount of plastic and non-biodegradable material pollution is part of maintaining sustainable businesses practices. In theory, it simply makes good economic and environmental sense. Lots of businesses understand this as they work to implement more environmentally conscious, waste-reducing practices.
There is, however, a major hindrance to nylon recycling. Nylon requires a lower temperature as part of its melting process. This differs from metal and glass recycling, which requires high-temperature melting that enables the material to be reformed and also destroys contaminants, including microbes and bacteria. Such contaminants can survive the lower temperatures of the nylon melting process, which means that separate steps for cleaning and decontamination are needed.
The cost of these extra steps adds up fast and makes nylon recycling difficult to justify; often it’s cheaper to use new material. Fortunately, manufacturing technology is finally starting to change the way companies can reclaim waste nylon and use it just as easily as new manufacturing stock.
Through the development of specialized machinery, businesses are able to reclaim more useable raw fiber from nylon waste. Some companies are creating and implementing their own equipment to churn through used and waste nylon and recover fibers that then go back into their production processes. This can contribute to a concept known as a circular economy business model, which enables manufacturers to maximize their use of resources for as long as possible.
There are also companies, like Econyl, that specialize in the nylon recycling process as a service. They will then sell raw, reclaimed material to manufacturers who choose not to, or lack the resources to integrate their own recycling methods. Econyl completes a process called depolymerization, which breaks down waste nylon and allows all foreign substances to be removed. The next step is a polymerization process that enables the remaining material to be reprocessed as fiber that’s virtually identical to new.