Flotsam and Fashion: Recycler of ‘Ghost’ Fishing Nets makes Marine Litter Trendy

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The oceans are choked with discarded fishing nets, or ghost nets, that are estimated to kill 300,000 whales, dolphins and seals each year. It’s a grotesque and avoidable toll on nature, and one that Giulio Bonazzi, CEO of Aquafil, hopes to reduce using an unlikely ally – fashion.

The Italian firm is pioneering the use of “ghost” or discarded fishing nets to make a synthetic fabric marketed under the name Econyl that’s currently being used by several apparel brands, including Speedo and California surfer Kelly Slater’s Outerknown.

Last year, Aquafil regenerated more than 5,000 tons of discarded nets at its factory in Slovenia. With the exception of some fish farming nets, which are coated with copper oxide to prevent algae and cannot be used, the company receives the majority of its nets directly from fishermen, or through partnerships with two firms, Healthy Seas and Net-Works.

By breaking down the nets to a molecular level, the plastics are then recreated as yarn in a process the sustainability industry calls recommercialization. “If they know us, they contact us and we pay for the waste. They have to have a motivation to contact us. So they call us from all over. From California, from Australia. We take them from all over the world,” says Bonazzi, a former scuba diver.

The environmental problem of discarded fishing nets, or ghost nets, is well-documented. Some are accidentally lost during storms, or dumped deliberately. By some estimates, ghost netting and other discarded fishing gear makes up 10% of all marine litter. The cost to marine life is devastating.

The National Marine Fisheries Service reports an average of 11 entangled large whales per year from 2000 to 2012 along the US west coast. Between 2002 and 2010, 870 nets recovered from Washington state alone contained more than 32,000 marine animals.

Other initiatives include Fishing for Energy, a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) Marine Debris Program, Covanta and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Schnitzer Steel to collect old fishing gear and reuse it either in recycling or to produce energy.

Aquafil’s proposition is to turn ocean waste into higher-value products. “If you can reach people with higher income then they’re always ready to pay something more for a product that responds to their needs and to their desires. And everybody wants some kind of exclusive product, and they feel that wasting is no longer connected to luxury.”

But fashion is fickle. Currently the fashion for nostalgia, and for an era before the advent of mass luxury is more apparent than ever. Warnings of a slump have been issued recently by luxury goods companies including Hermès and Richemont and there are fears that the industry could be forced into a fundamental shift in values.

The big question for the luxury market, say analysts, is whether the values of fashion and luxury can begin to acquire values that align with sustainability in a meaningful way.

Of course, the cost of the material is also a factor. And it depends which cost is most important to you. Recommercialized nylon is up to 6% more expensive to produce than new nylon. But creating fibre from recycled nets and carpet waste produces 50% less CO2 than typical, petroleum-based fibre production.

As the luxury industry reports a gloomy outlook, many companies are looking to reconfigure their notions of luxury to meet new consumer ideals around the ideas of recycling, repurposing and reclaiming.

“The more the fashion industry hears about us, the more they call when they need nylon as raw material,” says Bonazzi. Slowly, he says, “we are becoming more conscious and more aware. Of course, we all want to be rich but we also want to live.”

Some of the spirit of “ethical fashion” was on view at the periphery of New York’s fashion week last month where men’s clothing designer Heron Preston staged an event in a department of sanitation salt shed to draw attention to ways New Yorkers can reduce landfill waste, in this instance, by “upcycling” department uniforms into designer clothes.

Orsola de Castro, founder of Fashion Revolution and a leading campaigner for sustainable fashion, says any effort to reduce the environmental cost of clothes production and steer toward closed-loop technology in which 100% of fibres are recycled must be embraced.

“We have created an environmental crisis in the oceans of spectacular degree so any solution that helps us begin to redress the imbalance is a good solution,” she says.

But, she continues: “We’re coming off 25 years of product, product, product. And this is what people understand. It all needs to be seen as a part of a concerted effort to clean up to embrace technology to allow us to enjoy clothes again without necessarily feeling that it’s at the cost of the Earth.”

*This story first appeared on The Guardian

Learn more about the impact of fashion on our oceans here

Fishing nets are the new plastic bottles for fashion

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by Maíra Goldschmidt

Ocean pollution, especially plastic waste, has become one of the largest concerns for environmentalists in the last few years. The issue is on top of the discussions, from the surfer and videomaker Alison Teal, who has a humerous approach to it, to the frightening video on microbeads by Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA and creator of the famous documentary “The Story of Stuff”.

Why? Because plastic in the oceans means “ghost fishing”, which captures whales, turtles, birds and other marine animals – they think it is food, but it is not, and they eat and they die. Very simple, but not nice at all, right? And I am not even talking about when we eat the fish with plastic inside…

It is estimated that 80% of pollution to marine life comes from the land. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), there are more than 640.000 tons of abandoned fishing nets in the oceans.

Wait, don’t panic yet! The good news is some initiatives are creating very interesting, fashionable and desirable products out of this marine litter. And, nowadays, it is also quite cool to show an awareness about it. It is no coincidence that Parley for the Oceans and its Bionic Yarn is supported by Pharrel Williams. Aquafil, with its Healthy Seas Initiative, found an amazing spreader in Kelly Slater. And Net+Positiva, from Bureo, has the zero waste and free plastic muse Lauren Singer as one of its faces on Instagram. All these movements have made fishing nets even more popular in the upcycled fashion scene than PET bottles in 2015! And it’s still only summer!

It is not the solution yet, but a very exciting step in the right direction by reusing one material that is already all around us. Below, you can see the best results to date of the initiatives mentioned above. Check it out!

The surfer Kelly Slater incorporates a sustainable nylon made from reclaimed fishing nets and other nylon waste materials into jackets and boardshorts in the Evolution Series of the debut collection of Outerknown. The fiber Econyl was developed by the Italian textile company Aquafil and offers the same quality and performance as regular nylon, but it can be recycled an infinite times without any loss in quality.


Speedo USA is not only using Econyl, but has also started a take-back program in partnership with Aquafil. The idea is to be able to give new life to leftover fabric scraps and old swimwear to create a new raw nylon fiber. This process brings to reality the aim of producing swimsuits and bikinis in a closed-loop manufacturing system: in this field, post-production fabric waste has not been suitable for traditional recycling due to its complex technical composition. The Powerflex Eco fabric has 78% Econyl and 22% Extra Life Lycra.


The first fruit to come from the partnership between the German sportswear company and Parley for the Oceans is a sneaker made of yarns and filaments reclaimed and recycled from ocean waste and illegal deep-sea gillnets. To get the material, Parley’s partner organisation Sea Shepherd retrieved the nets in an expedition tracking an illegal poaching vessel which lasted more than 100 days. The first pair of shoes should be on sale at the end of this year.

With a program designed to prevent fishing net pollution called Net+Positiva, Bureo creates skateboards and sunglasses made of 100% recycled and recyclable plastic from the oceans. The project offers net collection points and provides funds to local communities for every kilogram of fishing net collected across the coast of Chile. There are three models of sunglasses, all of them with Zeiss lenses and produced in Italy. The partnership with eyewear company Karün was launched on Kickstarter in mid August and, after only six hours, it achieved the necessary funds to take off.

© images(from top to bottom):




Speedo USA


Bureo/Kevin Ahearn











**This story first appeared on Heads Up blog here.

Speedo partners with Aquafil to launch first swimwear fabric take-back scheme

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Everybody’s favourite swimwear brand, Speedo has jumped into bed with Aqualfil to launch the world’s first take-back programme for fabric for the swimwear market.

ed-article-images-8dc50ec2-0664-421f-9023-82d8da481b76_jpgAs a result, the new Speedo PowerFLEX Eco swimwear is made from Aquafil’s 100% upcycled ECONYL nylon, with the take-back programme turning leftover fabric scraps back into raw ECONYL – then new ‘Speedos’.

The scrap fabric would have ended up in landfill. Now, it is being being endlessly recycled, creating a closed-loop manufacturing partnership between the two companies.

“We are challenging apparel manufacturers to be more sustainable and restructure their supply chain to divert waste from landfill,” said Giulio Bonazzi, Aquafil’s chairman and CEO. “Our partnership with Speedo USA shows their commitment to the environment with the take-back program, but also their ingenuity in creating products from materials that can be recycled an infinite number of times.

“They are really helping us close the loop and create a more sustainable manufacturing process.”

In the swimwear industry, post-production fabric waste has not been suitable for traditional recycling due to its complex technical composition. However, Aquafil says it has developed a technology that can turn swimwear fabric and other blended waste materials into new raw nylon. The ECONYL Regeneration System takes manufacturing byproduct waste and nylon materials that have reached the end of their product life – such as abandoned fishing nets and old carpets – and re-engineers them into high-quality ECONYL Nylon 6 for the production of new carpets, sportswear and swimwear.

Now, the regeneration process is being used to separate usable nylon from Speedo’s blended post-production fabric scraps. It is then upcycled into raw nylon fiber that can be made into new PowerFLEX Eco swimwear.

In fact, the new products are made up of 78% ECONYL nylon and 22% Extra Life LYCRA – resulting in fabric that “retains its shape up to ten times longer than traditional swimwear fabrics, is resistant to chlorine, sagging and bagging and is offered in styles designed for both performance and fitness”.

**This story first appeared on 2degrees Network here.