Nylon is a sturdy fabric used to make lots of different types of bags, including backpacks, duffel bags, handbags, and crossbody bags. In many ways, it’s the ideal fabric choice for a bag, as it stands up to lots of wear and tear, it’s moisture resistant, and it’s easy to keep clean. And those are just a few of its many qualities.
But there’s a problem with nylon. The manufacturing processes used to make it (as well as what typically happens to nylon products once they’re no longer in use), have a terrible impact on our environment. Our water and air become polluted, and the finished product is ultimately left to waste in a landfill, where it never fully deteriorates.
That’s why for many of our bags, we use recycled nylon as one of the main materials. It’s part of our effort to incorporate more sustainable fabrics into our products for a lower carbon footprint that’s better for the Earth.
But what is recycled nylon? Isn’t it just the same as the virgin fabric? In some ways, yes, but in all the most important ways, no.
What Is Recycled Nylon?
Recycled nylon is made from nylon waste from products that have already been manufactured, sold, used, and then discarded by consumers. It can also be made from the waste that’s left over during the processes where nylon is made into a product.
Virgin nylon, on the other hand, is made directly from chemicals derived from petroleum. Petroleum, or crude oil, is a fossil fuel that is the origin of most of the plastics that we use every day, as well as the source of our oil and gas.
Petroleum refineries pose a major threat to our environment. They spew tons of carbon and other toxic substances into the air, leak them into the water, and leach them into the soil.
The production of virgin nylon by itself is also a dangerous process. It has a larger, more negative environmental impact than cotton, a natural fabric, and even more than polyester. Polyester is another synthetic fabric made from petroleum derivatives, but the manufacturing process for that material is not as damaging as the one for nylon.
In addition to all the ethical and environmental problems with the production of nylon, nylon continues to damage the Earth after it’s been discarded. While it’s sitting in a landfill, deteriorating slowly over the course of several decades, it poisons the soil with its toxic, plastic components.
A better way to handle nylon waste is to reuse it. Rather than carting it off to a landfill, it can be broken down into its basic parts and reconstructed into new nylon, so that the material can be used to make a whole new product.
This is how recycled nylon comes into play as a viable fabric material that is more sustainable than its original form.
How Is Recycled Nylon Made?
Recycled nylon is made by taking nylon waste, including fishing nets and plastic scraps, and breaking it down into its individual chemical components. Once this is done, the components can be recombined into nylon sheets.
From this point on, the manufacturing process of recycled nylon fabric follows the same steps as virgin nylon. Sheets of nylon are heated up and fed into a spinneret to form fibers. The fibers are then woven together into a fabric material.
Why Does Recycled Nylon Exist?
Nylon was created by a company called DuPont and launched as a product in the 1930s. For a while, it was used in place of silk to make stockings and tights, but then, when World War II started, it became a popular material for parachutes.
At this point in history, nylon could be stodgy and uncomfortable to wear. Once manufacturers figured out they could make more wearable fabric when they blended nylon fibers with other fabrics, like cotton, the material rose to greater heights of popularity.
Unfortunately, as we explained earlier, the production of nylon leaves a damaging carbon footprint. It takes a lot of energy and water to manufacture nylon, in a process that releases a significant amount of carbon - a greenhouse gas - into the air.
Even after its time in the factory, nylon is still harmful to the planet. It isn’t biodegradable, meaning it can’t be degraded by natural microorganisms, bacteria, or fungi. Once it reaches a landfill, it takes 30 to 40 years to decompose.
All these factors led researchers to develop a form of recycling nylon, to cut down on the waste and pollution that goes into manufacturing, producing, and using virgin nylon fabric.
Recycled Nylon VS Virgin Nylon Fabric
When comparing recycled nylon vs virgin nylon fabric, we need to consider three major elements: materials, sustainability, and cost.
While the term “recycled nylon” may have you thinking that this material is substantially different from the virgin kind, that’s actually not the case. Recycled nylon and virgin nylon are basically the same material in weight, composition, and texture.
The real difference between these two fabrics is the way they’re manufactured. Once again, virgin nylon is made directly from petroleum derived substances, whereas recycled nylon is based on nylon waste, which has already been through the manufacturing process.
By now, we’ve already established that virgin nylon is simply not sustainable. Not only is it derived from a nonrenewable source - petroleum - but most of the time, it is not reused or recycled into anything new when the manufacturer or the consumer is finished with it. Instead, it’s dumped in a landfill to rot away.
Recycled nylon, on the other hand, is already somewhat sustainable by its very nature. It’s made from nylon waste that already exists, and it can, theoretically, be recycled over and over. A small amount of nylon can last for many years and be made into many different products throughout its lifetime.
It’s even possible for companies to recycle nylon into new fabric without leaving a carbon footprint. This effect is called net zero or going carbon neutral. It means that the manufacturer balances out the amount of carbon they’re putting out by reducing their overall emissions.
Currently, recycled nylon fabric is more expensive than virgin nylon. This is due to several different factors, but a big part is that there simply isn’t a huge demand for it. You don’t see a lot of companies using recycled nylon or similar materials in their products, in fashion, or in any other industry.
However, as the demand for sustainability in fashion grows among young consumers and manufacturers start to compete for prices, we’re likely to see the cost of recycled nylon go down.
Advantages Of Recycled Nylon
There are several advantages to using recycled nylon for bags and other fashion accessories.
Recycled nylon fibers are woven close together to form a strong, durable material. It holds up well in the form of a bag. You can carry it with you wherever you go - to work or school, on hiking or camping trips, or even just to the store - and expect it to last a long time without tearing or splitting.
Despite being strong, nylon is incredibly lightweight, which is another reason it makes such a great bag fabric.
Like virgin nylon, recycled nylon is elastic, which allows it to spring back into its original shape if it’s ever bent, pulled, or bulged out.
Nothing is worse than getting caught in the rain or splashed with water by an oncoming car and finding that the contents in your bag are wet. But that’s not an issue with recycled nylon. The fibers are so tight together, and the texture is so smooth, that water droplets slide right off. Recycled nylon also doesn’t absorb water, so even when it does get a little wet, it will dry fast.
Bag manufacturers love recycled nylon because it’s easy to shape. It holds to a mold perfectly, and then, thanks to its elasticity, it keeps that shape throughout the bag’s lifetime.
- It’s More Sustainable And Environmentally Friendly
Of course, the biggest advantage of recycled nylon is it’s more sustainable and environmentally friendly than the most used bags fabrics. It’s even better for the planet than natural fabrics like cotton or canvas, which factories often use tons of water and energy to make.
Recycled nylon is a better choice than nylon for many reasons, the least of which is that it’s basically the same material. It does cost more, but the difference is a small price to pay for an increase in sustainability and the end of wasting materials.
Of course, we still have a long way to go to reach a point where we can pat ourselves on the back for using recycled nylon in our bag collections. Our efforts and the efforts of similar companies are just drops in a vast ocean.
But as the call for sustainability and environmental protections grows, so, too, do our hopes that recycled nylon and other recycled fabrics will one day become the materials of choice in the fashion industry.
Do you want to contribute to a more sustainable fashion industry? Check out our bags made of recycled nylon.