If you were to collect all the debris in the ocean, about 10% of it would be nylon. Nylon is a synthetic fibre made of polymers that don’t break down easily. Nylon is commonly used in fishing nets, which are often discarded carelessly. According to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, more than 600,000 tons of fishing gear is dumped into oceans each year. Nylon gets discarded so often because it is difficult and expensive to recycle. Polymers, which make up nylon, are actually cheaper to buy new. There are also contamination concerns surrounding the recycling process – nylon has a low melting point which means bacteria can survive on the material even if it is melted down. This means nylon has to be rigorously cleaned before it is recycled. This is why fishing nets, which have been dragged on the ocean floor, a boat, and filled with fish, are difficult and expensive to clean.
One company is working to change this problem. Bureo is a Los Angeles-based company that uses recycled nylon to make skateboards and sunglasses. They get the nets from Chile, where they pay local fishermen to collect them. Bureo is also supportive of the circular economy model – the sunglasses come with a lifetime warranty, and they will fix any pair free of charge or replace if necessary. Old frames are then recycled.
There are other companies working to include more recycled nylon in their fashion lines, including Patagonia, Speedo, and Aquafil. The main challenge is creating products with recycled material that will perform like new.