Patagonia's newly released Shelter Stone three layer waterproof mountain shells are significant because they're being hailed as the world's first recyclable nylon jacket and waterproof pants. At first glance this might not seem like much to write home about. But it is.
In 1991 Patagonia commissioned an independent audit in the four main fabrics they then used to make their garments: cotton, nylon, polyester and wool. As founder, Yvon Chouinard explained to staff in a company speech, "to no one's surprise the news was bad. Everything we make pollutes. Synthetics like polyester and nylon, because they are made from petroleum, are obvious villains, but cotton and wool are no better." Thus In 1992 Patagonia began the switch to recycled polyester (and taking back polyester for recycling in 2005 through their Common Threads program.) In 1996 they moved to only using organic cotton. A while back they tried organic wool and more recently they've been touting their chlorine free Merino wool. But that fourth material, nylon, has largely alluded them. Until now.They've dabbled with a few recycled nylon garments, like board shorts and work pants, but until now no real technical pieces. And even the Shelter Stone jacket and pants for men and women are not yet recycled, only recyclable. Yeh, big deal, you may be thinking: where's the story in that? We've had recycled, and recyclable polyester outdoor wear for years now haven't we?.
Supply and Demand
Partly it comes down to supply and demand. The Journal for Asia on Textile and Apparel reported that for 2004 Polyester commanded 77% of the market of synthetic fibre production with nylon but a mere 12.9%. Polyester is also the PET in drink bottles, which allows it to be recycled into pillows, comforter quilts, sleeping bags and housing insulation. Nylon, although a stronger and more abrasion resistant material than polyester, simply isn't as versatile. So there hasn't been the same market for it.
To complicate matters further there are two types of nylon. One is known as nylon 6,6 so called from the pair of 6 carbon atoms from each of diamine and diacid. But the more readily recyclable version is the homopolymer nylon 6, derived instead from caprolactam, which has a 23% lower melting temperature.
As with most recycling systems its best to avoid contamination of different materials to get the best quality result. Therefore to get good recycled nylon 6 product you want to only be recycling nylon 6, not its 6,6 cousin. To this end Patagonia have teamed up with their textile partner of over 20 years, Japan's Toray to include recyclable nylon into their Common Threads recycling program. (Toray also produce the waterproof breathable fabric Entrant, aka Patagonia's H2No.)
When the recycled nylon program was announced in December last year, Toray suggested that chemical recycling of nylon back to its base form of caprolactam would result in a 70% reduction in energy consumed for production compared to regular petroleum-based nylon 6. (As part of their EcoDream plan to double sales of green products by 2010 Toray will also be focusing on recycling of acrylic and polyester, alongside nylon.)
On the eve of the launch of the Shelter Stone range, Cool Hunting spoke with its designer Star Heorauf, who advised that "the recyclable Nylon performs as well as its non-recyclable counterpart." When asked if the trim like zippers and cord locks were also recyclable she said not yet, but "we've been working really hard on sourcing an eco-friendlier trim package, which we're hoping to include in future lines." Adding, "The reality is the more people that jump on board, the greater the demand will be, which will increase availability and reduce cost." ::Patagonia Shelter Stone (mens & womens)
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