It is all too evident that the way we consume resources is causing ongoing environmental degradation and extensive exploitation of our planet’s limited natural resources. We produce, use and throw away things without thinking. Our current linear economic model is pushing us beyond nature’s limits to cope. Thankfully, increasing awareness of a new economic model, the Circular Economy, has enabled companies to seize new opportunities and expand into innovative, eco-friendly territory. Such is the case of Aquafil, one of the leading international players in the production of fibres and polymers, and the inventor and producer of ECONYL®, a polyamide made from 100% recycled raw materials.

Aquafil uses post-consumer waste such as fishing nets, carpets, clothing, rugs, and rigid textiles, as well as pre-consumer waste like oligomers, scraps and others generated from the production of Nylon 6, to produce its innovative textile, ECONYL®. What is more, no waste goes into the environment after its use, since the material can be regenerated an infinite number of times to produce new polymers with quality and technical characteristics equivalent to products obtained from oil, enabling savings of about 7 barrels of oil per tonne of regenerated polymers.  

ECONYL® is used in the production of BCF (bulk continuous filaments), a material that can be found in the manufacture of carpet flooring, and in NTF (nylon textile filaments), used in the production of textile clothing. ECONYL® NTF is already receiving attention from the media and being used in garments by brands like La Perla and Adidas, a great step forward in the textile sector given that 20% of the global production of waste comes from textiles and apparel.

To increase the efficiency of the ECONYL® Regeneration System, Aquafil has set up a structured international waste collection network based on partnerships with institutions, customers, and both public and private associations. The ECONYL® Reclaiming Program allows Aquafil to gather large quantities of materials from all over the world, including the United States, Egypt, Pakistan, Thailand, Norway and Turkey.

Not only has all this paid off business-wise, but also, since the introduction of ECONYL® and the Eco-Pledge®, Aquafil’s commitment towards full sustainability, they have reduced water consumption by 15% and increased the amount of recycled non-hazardous waste by 21%. By dedicating their efforts to building a new supply chain that properly identifies waste streams and engages the fish farming industry and communities, their innovative products can truly create an impact by proving that closing the loop not only benefits one closed business unit, but many more communities and consumers at the same time.

Aquafil was established more than 50 years ago in Arco, Italy, where its headquarters are still located, and since then it has become one of the leading players in the production of polyamide 6 both in Italy and globally. Today the group has a presence in eight countries on three continents, with 16 plants employing more than 2700 people in Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Thailand and China. The production of Aquafil’s ECONYL® material is located in Slovenia.  

The production facility, AquafilSLO, recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary on October 13th, alongside more than 300 executives, state officials, and business partners, including Circular Change, a Circular Economy stakeholder engagement platform, where AquafilSLO’s General Manager, Edi Kraus, is a member of the Advisory Board.

The keynote speaker at the ceremony was the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Borut Pahor. He congratulated all the employees, executives and the owners for their 50 years of development and the successful story of “a foreign takeover” in Slovenia. He also stressed that he believes in the business philosophy of sustainable development.

To commemorate this significant milestone, Aquafil Slovenia also released a video highlighting the values and principles that motivate their team to keep delivering high quality products.

In 2014, Aquafil joined the CE100 program founded by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The objective of the CE100 program is to build a global platform that will accelerate and lead market development towards a Circular Economy. This year, after a successful collaboration with Circular Change, Aquafil entered the World Economic Forum (WEF) Circulars Awards. This initiative, led by the WEF and also supported by Circular Change, is the world’s premier Circular Economy award programme, offering recognition to individuals and organisations from commerce and civil society across the globe which have made notable contributions to the Circular Economy in the private sector, the public sector and society in general. Entrants to the awards are leading the way in driving innovation and growth which is decoupled from the use of limited natural resources.

Aquafil is not only being rewarded for its innovative products; the Group uses over 78% green certified energy. Its plant in Slovenia even sends the excess heat generated during production to Atlantis, a waterpark in Ljubljana. This excess heat provides enough thermal energy to supply 100% of the waterpark’s requirements. The close proximity of the two allows both businesses to significantly reduce their environmental impacts on the city. More than 2,000,000 kilograms of CO2 emissions are expected to be avoided each year, corresponding to 1,100 cars each driving 35 km a day.

Aquafil’s circular future looks promising, especially with their profound commitment to the improvement of their Research and Development (R&D) team. Their visionary president, Giulio Bonazzi, firmly believes that in order to make a full transition to the Circular Economy, their efforts need to focus on R&D.

“The transition into a Circular Economy is a must. It is not possible to envision a company in the near future doing business with only a linear economy model in mind. Natural resources are going to decrease while waste increases exponentially with the growth of the population. We absolutely must focus all our efforts on R&D in order to be able to use and regenerate products that have arrived at the end of their useful life, or to implement engineering for remanufacturing polices. A key factor in this journey is represented by R&D, and it will surely help in this transitional phase. Sustainability is not a goal, but a way of thinking, a way of being, a principle we are guided by. We cannot be sustainable or circular alone; we all need to incorporate our knowledge into the value chain and think and act accordingly. It’s a journey,” said Bonazzi.