We can not reach Mission Zero without the dedication and support from our key partners. Aquafil is one of these partners. They are currently investing more in green technologies as detailed below, and from their press release I also wanted to extract some key learnings that make our relationship so successful.
Aquafil has been around since 1969 as one of the leading global players, producing polyamide 6, the filaments we use in our floorings, and synthetic fibres others use in sports apparel, the automotive industry and other products.
Aquafil USA is nearing completion of its $25 million expansion to increase its capacity to extrude and process Econyl, its proprietary nylon 6 made entirely from recycled materials, the company is proving that making and marketing 100 percent recycled nylon is financially sustainable as well.
Franco Rossi, company president, noted that in today’s economy, it is slightly more expensive to make nylon 6 through the Econyl system, “But some markets are willing to pay the difference in cost. We believe that over time it will become less expensive because, through the evolution of technology, more improvements will make the process more efficient.”
Currently, Econyl accounts for 30 percent of Aquafil USA sales, with the remainder made up of traditional nylon and some polyester. “Now, Econyl is a premium, niche product,” Rossi said. “Our goal is to become 100 percent Econyl and to deliver it at a price that is equal to other nylons. To do that, we must expand our capacity and become more efficient at collecting the waste materials. Now, Econyl is made up of 50 percent postindustrial (PI) waste and 50 percent postconsumer (PC) waste. The PC is used carpet and discarded fishnets. The fishnets are either discarded into the ocean or in landfills. It’s a good raw material because it is pure nylon,” Rossi reported.
Aquafil USA is a manufacturer of a variety of nylon 6 BCF (bulked continuous filament) yarns, polymers and plastics. The expansion includes adding a second plant in Cartersville, according to Franco Rossi, company president. And as part of its sustainability efforts, it is also adding a post consumer carpet processing operation that will produce nylon 6 “fluff” to be sent to Aquafil’s Ljubljana, Slovenia plant, where it will become Econyl nylon 6, made from 100 percent recycled materials. The expansion, which is expected to create more than 50 new jobs, is slated for completion this summer.
Aquafil is currently making about 4 million pounds of Econyl pellets a month at the Slovenia plant. Aquafil USA then sources its Econyl resin from that plant.
This is Aquafil’s fifth expansion in Cartersville since it added fiber extrusion in 2006. It will move its twisting and air entangling operation to a refurbished 250,000 square foot building, adding additional capacity for a total of 35 million pounds a year.
Fiber extrusion will then expand 50 percent at its Aquafil Dr. plant, increasing that capacity to a total of 50 million pounds per year. The carpet shearing operation, able to process about 50 million pounds of old carpet, will also be added to that plant, Rossi added.
When Aquafil USA was established in Cartersville in 1999, the company leased a small 20,000 square foot building, and began processing fiber it imported from Aquafil Spa, on a few twisters and air entangling machines, according to Rossi.
“We started with solution dyed nylon 6 made in Italy from all virgin materials,” he said. But working to produce sustainable products came naturally to the company. “The parent company is based in Trento, Italy in an especially beautiful location and it was always important to maintain the natural environment, “But when Giulio Bonazzi, current CEO and major shareholder of Aquafil Spa, met Ray Anderson (of Interface) in the mid-1990s, Bonazzi was influenced by Anderson’s concept of how to conduct a sound business without hurting the environment. Today, Interface is Aquafil’s largest customer and the companies work together with Networks and Healthy Seas to keep discarded fishnets out of the world’s oceans by collecting and recycling them into nylon fiber,” Rossi said.
Aquafil set out to create a fully sustainable nylon resin and Econyl, in development for the past three years, is now a reality, Rossi said, explaining, “Econyl is not only a product. It is a system that transforms old used nylon into like-virgin nylon resin and yarn.”
Rossi said that the conventional way to recycle nylon is to re-melt the material and then filter out impurities, but, “That only allows for a somewhat degraded material that can be used for injection molded products but not back into nylon fiber.”
Aquafil’s process is to depolymerize the old nylon back to a single monomer. Aquafil’s system results in very high ratio of nylon output compared to the waste input, making the process commercially viable, according to the company.
Aquafil states, “The new purification process is less complex than the ones applied in the industry, uses less energy and water, creates less residual waste and produces a lot more first-grade nylon. The Econyl system can be used to process the waste nylon 6 over and over, to produce new polymers, whose technical characteristics and quality is no different from virgin materials.”
Elements of our relationship I think worth highlighting:
Inspiration from leaders: Ray and Giulio’s story should be an inspiration for other business leaders.
Clear goals: Setting a target of 100% recycled nylon is very clear!
Commitment: We are committed not just to goals, but to truly engage together and contribute significantly towards our agreed mission.
Alignment: We invest at a premium for the recycled raw material, and as per this example, align with like-minded suppliers.
With thanks to Janet Herlihy and FCW for the press release.