New old top: company announces nylon shirt recycled with enzymes

An Australian startup has developed samples of a commercial garment made out of recycled nylon.

The nylon in the top has mostly (90%) been made by recycling nylon with enzymes.

Textiles present a particularly noxious problem for plastic pollution, because they’re often made of mixtures of polymers that are very difficult to recycle with conventional methods.

Much of the world’s microplastic pollution comes from textiles, and recycling usually produces lower quality products if it’s possible at all.

Researchers have been investigating enzymes that can digest plastics as an alternative recycling method. These proteins can dissolve polymers at a molecular level, allowing them to be reformed into materials that are the same or higher quality. But for now, much of the research is still in its infancy.

Australian recycling company Samsara Eco has developed a top, in partnership with activewear brand lululemon, that’s made from enzymatically recycled nylon 6,6.

Long sleeved pink top
The Swiftly sample top, made from recycled nylon. Credit: Samsara Eco / lululemon

“Nylon 6,6 is a synthetic polymer that is one of the most common materials utilised by the textile and fashion industries,” Sarah Cook, chief commercial operations officer at Samsara Eco, tells Cosmos.

“Its complex chemical structure makes it an extremely versatile and resilient material, which is why it has been so attractive to the industry for so long.”

Cook says that Samsara’s technology is the first to recycle nylon 6,6. Samsara Eco has been working on a suite of enzymes engineered to break down different plastic polymers.

“Our enzymatic solution can recycle a breadth of feedstock inputs, including coloured and mixed textile fabrics. From end-to-end, our recycling process takes less than 2 hours and we can re-use our enzymes,” says Cook.

“Compared to the production of virgin nylon 6,6, our infinite recycling process reduces emissions, so has the potential to save millions of tonnes of CO2 entering our environment every year.”

The top is made from old lululemon clothing. For now, parts of the clothing that aren’t made from nylon 6,6 are “separated and collected” by Samsara Eco.

“We’re currently looking at ways we can also repurpose it for other use,” says Cook.

The fashion industry is becoming increasingly interested in garment recycling, with ventures like the Australian Fashion Council’s product stewardship scheme aiming to make the industry circular in under a decade.

Besides enzymes, companies are targeting both mechanical and chemical ways to recycle clothes.

Buy cosmos print magazine

Please login to favourite this article.