Aquafil Initiates Carpet Recycling in the US

(3BL Media) — The carpet industry has traditionally been a large source of emissions. First, most of the fibers used, such as nylon are derived from fossil fuels. Second, when carpets are uninstalled they typically end up in the landfill by the ton, four million tons, to be precise, which represents roughly 2% of all landfill waste.

Efforts to recycle the nylon in carpeting have been underway for some time, with many recyclers using heat to melt down the plastic. At present, less than 5% of all carpet is being recycled. This is unacceptable to Giulio Bonazzi, CEO of nylon producer Aquafil. Aquafil is a global company, with revenues of $600 million, producing fibers and polymers, 98% of which are nylon.

Justmeans spoke with Bonazzi, by phone in his office in Italy. He explained how Aquafil has its origins beside the environmentally sensitive Lake Gara in Trento, Italy, which has guided their operating philosophy since day one. That has led them to aggressively pursue nylon recycling, an effort that, after four years of R&D, culminated in the development of Econyl® process, which depolymerizes the nylon, rather than melting it. This produces a higher purity product, because contaminants are removed rather than melted in, allowing the recycled nylon to be made in any color, including white. He also explained that their process reduces CO2 emissions by 80% for three reasons:

  • First, no new oil is required
  • Second, the ECONYL® process uses 35% less energy than conventional processes,
  • Finally, the process is powered using almost entirely renewable energy.

Bonazzi announced the $10 million Aquafil Carpet Recycling plant #1, to be constructed in Phoenix, Arizona, which will regenerate nylon carpet waste. The facility will collect up to 35 million pounds per year, and employ up to 50 workers. This represents the first step in what will eventually be a complete closed-loop nylon supply chain in the US. Initially, recycled carpet will be sent to this new plant in Phoenix, where the nylon material will be separated from the carpet and then shipped back to their Econyl® facility in Slovenia, where it will be returned to an essentially virgin state. Less than 5% of the nylon is wasted in this process. All of the other material will be recovered as well

Two more US-based plants are planned to be built in the next 24-36 months, which will then provide enough raw material to supply a second depolymerization plant, which will also be located in the US.

Aquafil also makes recycled nylon from discarded fishing nets, a process that will be integrated with the carpet recycling activity.

Image courtesy of Aquafil.