Nylon. When we hear the word “nylon”, we may think of our lovely stockings that we have or had to wear underneath our skirts or dresses for work. It’s an easy word to pronounce, and familiar to anyone around the world. Not only is nylon popular to make stockings, but also yoga pants. As we discover all types of fabrics involved in making yoga pants on this website, let’s dig deeper and discover whether if and why is nylon bad for the environment.
What Is Nylon?
Nylon, also known as polymer fabric, is a general name for a group of synthetic polymers. Nylon doesn’t really come from nature, like bamboo, cotton, or wood does. It is actually derived from chemicals that are present in petroleum oil or coal, so that is why it’s considered a synthetic fiber.
Nylon was the first synthetic fiber to be produced back in 1935 by a chemist, Wallace Carothers. As World War Two was approaching, and silk stockings were in shortage, nylon stockings for women came to the rescue. U.S. used to be the biggest producer, but now it’s mostly produced in China, Indonesia, and India. Nylon is not only in clothing, but it is also used to produce many other products (such as toothbrushes, bowls, parachutes, ropes, etc…), as it is considered to be a type of plastic. The process of producing nylon is a bit tedious to explain, so I will try to explain the basic process. The chemicals from the petroleum/coal are mixed with another chemical and thus it forms “nylon salt”. This nylon salt is then heated to become liquefied, which then goes through little holes (spinneret) to form the nylon thread shape as it hardens. Then the nylon must be stretched to improve its strength and elasticity, subsequently going into a cold “drawing” process, in which the nylon becomes straight and then it’s ready to be woven into fabric. Nylon fabric is usually mixed with other fabrics in order to make the clothing more durable and optimal to wear.
Impact On The Environment
Nylon fabric seems like a good idea when manufacturing clothing, as it is durable, stretchy, strong, cheap, and easy to wash. However, just because there are many benefits to this fabric, the downsides outweighs the positive features of nylon. Although nylon is a versatile type of fabric, there is a dark side to it. Actually many dark sides, such as:
- Methods used to extract crude oil is harmful to our ecosystem
- It pollutes the air during the manufacturing as it releases nitrous oxide, which is 310 times stronger than carbon dioxide (gross!), which means it’s also using tons of energy
- It uses tons of water to cool down the fiber during the manufacturing process, which then in turn this water ends up polluting the environment
- Once you throw your clothing away, It’s NOT biodegradable, thus it stays on Planet Earth for a long long time. In fact, it can release micro plastics into the environment (even if you don’t throw it away, and just wash it). As it is not biodegradable, it makes it hard to get rid of it, so usually it gets burnt – which pollutes the environment even more!
So, is nylon bad for the environment? I would definitely say yes, it is.
Impact On Our Bodies
When there is such a bad impact on the environment, it means that there’s also a huge impact on our bodies. Purely synthetic clothing, like nylon, does not have moisture wicking properties. This means that when you are sweating during your yoga practice or workout, your sweat is stuck on your skin which can cause skin irritation and foul smell. Not only that, but also can you imagine the amount of chemicals that are used to produce nylon?
As we are having an issue with micro plastics being released in our oceans, there is a chance that we are ingesting tiny little particles of nylon. This can be super harmful to animals and our bodies, causing several health issues. Also, due to all the environmental effects listed above, the polluted air created by nylon (plus thousands of other sources), we are breathing air now that is more polluted than ever. In turn, we are getting sicker and sicker.
There May Be A Solution
The amazing news is that nylon can be recycled! So all the nylon that has been thrown away into our environment, can be retrieved to produce nylon that is as good as new. Although being more costly, manufacturers have found a way to recycle nylon by using less resources, water, energy, and overall having less impact on the environment. Just like some companies that manufacture organic bamboo, manufacturers can use a closed-looped system, which is more sustainable by not releasing any of the chemicals into our rivers and oceans.
One company that you may have heard of that manufactures recycled nylon is Econyl. They recover waste from landfills, oceans, and rivers, and they sort out all the nylon that they can use, which can then be recycled and turned into textile yarn and carpet yarn for interior and fashion industries. There are other manufacturers who are doing the same, and there are a few brands who are selling recycled nylon mixed with other fabric to make yoga leggings (they mix in other fabric so that the leggings are moisture wicking). In order to avoid having microfibers being released into our wastewater when doing laundry, check out these three microfiber filter solutions that you can use.
The Bottom Line
Nylon is definitely not any good for our environment, but since there are millions of nylon products that are already out there, we can help the environment by using recycled nylon (which can be recycled over and over again). There is no perfect fabric, even when using fabric made out of recycled plastic, organic cotton, and organic bamboo. The most important is that you research about the brands that you are interested in, and most importantly make sure that they are transparent and that they may carry some certifications (such as GOTS and GRS) that prove its efforts on being sustainable. If you are looking for recycled nylon leggings, check out Organic Basics, as they are a sustainable brand.
What do you think of using recycled nylon instead of conventional nylon?