Discarded materials, products and components can represent either a major environmental dilemma or a massive potential economic windfall. If treated properly, much post industrial and post consumer waste may be reclaimed or recycled for future use and converted into a significant new revenue stream. If improperly treated this waste, on the other hand, poses a massive threat to the world's ecosystem and can result in contamination to the soil, air, and water, while also exposing workers, nearby residents and wildlife to a multitude of health hazards.

Sometimes people think that being more sustainable means also less profit, but I strongly believe that sustainability and profitability are two words that should always go together. Our regeneration system, for example, in order to be really sustainable, must be profitable. If you do not make money, you are not fully sustainable and, sooner or later, you will go out of business.

Aquafil has always been very careful when it comes to the environment and being sustainable, and waste diversion has become part of our culture. We also understood that being sustainable could make us more innovative, and therefore competitive, and this is why we have always worked hard to develop infrastructures and technologies that were as respectful as possible to the surrounding environment.

In 2011 we have launched the Econyl Regeneration System, internally developed by our "Energy & Recycling" Business Unit, an innovative process for the production of nylon 6 derived both from post-consumer and post-industrial waste.

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The end result: Aquafil's carpet yarns

With endless regeneration possibilities, Econyl Process is able to drastically reduce the production of new waste. In other words, the impact of Aquafil thanks to this new technology is waste positive, given by the result of the algebraic sum of waste taken from the environment and the one produced at a consolidated level.

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Giulio Bonazzi, CEO of Aquafil

More in detail nowadays the Econyl Process can regenerate different types of post- consumer waste such as: fishing nets; fluff, which is the upper part of the textile flooring (rugs and carpet); rigid fabrics, used for various applications in many areas and plastic components intended for various purposes.

The Econyl Regeneration System, unique worldwide for efficiency, is based on a chemical – mechanical process that allows the recovery and recycling of polyamide 6 endlessly, for an infinite number of times.

To best support this project Aquafil has implemented a dedicated international program (Econyl Reclaiming Program), whose unique mission is to recover the waste materials necessary to feed the Econyl Recycling process.

A group of skilled professionals, the Econyl Reclaim Managers, work in order to expand the international waste collection network, which currently includes countries such as United States, Egypt, Pakistan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Norway and Turkey.

Every day we sign new agreements with companies, consortia, associations and local collectors located throughout the world for the collection of Polyamide 6 - based products at the end of their lifecycle and which until today were a waste sent to landfills or cause of sea pollution. Organizations, associations, and our main customers daily support our company in collecting materials and the synergy with clients and institutions is essential for the success of our collection process.

All the material recovered through the Econyl Reclaiming Program is then collected at the Ajdovscina collection center, a warehouse based a few kilometers away from the Econyl plant in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Once at the Ajdovscina warehouse, the waste material is stored, rationalized, pre-treated and separated from non-recyclable parts. Then sent to the factory in Ljubljana, where we start a mechanical and chemical process, without any solvents or dangerous materials, to transform the waste into new raw material and then recycled into Econyl nylon 6 polymers.

The recovery of used fishing nets is a really important point, because helps preventing the harmful effects of  the "invisible” pollution caused by these discarded materials, which represents an issue of great relevance worldwide.

According to a report released jointly by FAO and the United Nations Program for Environment (UNEP), this phenomenon is gradually getting worse due both to the increase of fishing operations worldwide and the introduction of particularly resistant fishing gears produced with highly durables materials. More specifically the report estimates that dumped nets in the oceans (640,000 tons) represent one-tenth of sea waste overall.

In fact, once reached the end of their lifecycle, the fishing nets are, at best, disposed in landfills located on the edge of forests or particularly sensitive ecosystems, while in the worst cases are dumped in the sea, causing a real environmental disaster.

Aquafil's commitment is therefore particularly valuable, because thanks to our commitment to recycling fishing nets, the Group is also able to give a vital contribution in the protection of the marine ecosystem and, therefore, reducing the environmental damages and waste of money given that each year, millions of dollars are spent to restore and protect areas damaged or endangered.

My long term goal and dream is to make Aquafil a 100% sustainable company worldwide and I believe that thanks to these big efforts and new important projects we are working on, we are heading towards the right direction.

Photos courtesy Aquafil USA.

About The Author

Giulio Bonazzi

Born in Verona in 1963, Giulio Bonazzi is the Chairman & CEO of Aquafil Group. Mr. Bonazzi currently serves also as Chairman of CIRFS, the European Association of the man-made fiber producers and is also Vice-Chairman of Bruno Kessler Foundation. In 2012 Mr. Bonazzi has been awarded as “Entrepreneur of the Year 2011” by Ernst & Young in Italy.