Announced Monday, the award is Aquafil’s first at the conference, as well as the first time the company has taken part in the event. Aquafil won with its ECONYL fiber, which is made from reused and improved waste polymers, such as those in fishing nets, carpets and clothing.
“We take the old materials and we break everything down. We pull out the raw material,” said Aquafil Brand Communications Coordinator Abby Dayton. “It’s not just a recycle. It’s an upcycle. So a lot of the time the quality is better than that of raw material. So it’s not just a recycle, but it’s an upcycle because it doesn’t lose any of its quality throughout the entire process.”
The ECONYL fiber is made in one of Aquafil’s European plants. Located in Slovenia, the plant is solely dedicated to making the polymer fiber. Once the process is complete, the material is shipped to Aquafil USA.
“So we prepare everything. We shred and prepare the materials to be transferred back to ... the plant in Ljbljana for the process. So everything is cleaned and prepared as soon as it arrives in Ljubljana,” Dayton said. “What then happens is it’s taken and it’s put through our machinery with the chemical process and the nylon is pulled out of that and turned into new polymer.”
The ECONYL fiber is completely regenerated, Dayton added. Fifty percent of it is post-consumer waste and the company has a goal of hitting a 100 percent post-consumer waste mix by 2020. At the moment, the ECONYL fiber is a material used in only one product line.
“It’s only one of our products but ... ECONYL is used in both residential and commercial. It’s one of our products. We do offer products that do not include the ECONYL polymer that are not regenerated that are just from raw material. So it really just kind of depends on the sustainability story and the clients that we’re working with and if they are committed to that sustainable story and that process, or if ... they have a different direction. So it really depends on what each client is looking for,” Dayton said.
Aquafil USA President and CEO Franco Rossi believed the award was an honor for the company and that it indicated the direction the carpet industry is moving as a whole.
“It was an honor to receive this award on behalf of the Aquafil Group. We pride ourselves on being innovative and sustainable while still producing high quality products. This just further proves the direction the industry is headed. We must prepare for future generations today by providing materials that are endlessly regenerable in order to protect the world’s diminishing resources,” he said.
Dayton said Aquafil’s emphasis on sustainable materials comes from corporate headquarters in Europe, with work on the energy and recycling aspect of the industry beginning worldwide in 2008.
“In 2011 it was just a matter of finding the right technology and finding the right investment and things like that,” she said. “We put four years of research and development and over 20 million euros into this brand and into the product and the plants and kind of just making sure everything was right. Our CEO, who is based in Italy, is very committed to sustainable initiatives and it is something he is 100 percent behind. He’s really pushing for it, so he’s really pushing for that goal of 2020 having everything post-consumer waste.”
The ECONYL fiber was introduced to market in 2011, and Rossi credited both researchers and production teams for the material winning an industry award after three years on the market.
“It shows our commitment to sustainability and is truly a testament to the talent we invest in. We take great pride in our employees and production processes. A lot of people behind the scenes worked tirelessly to ensure the success of the ECONYL Regeneration System. We continue to invest time and money into research and development in order to achieve the best results to remain an industry leader. It’s imperative we continue to improve our production processes in order to achieve the most sustainable product possible.”
Earlier this year Aquafil announced an expansion of its Cartersville facility, which will roughly double the plant’s size and add up to 100 jobs. Winning the best fiber award served as another piece of welcome news, Rossi added.
“It’s been an exciting year for us so far. With the new plant expanding our production capacity, we will be able to meet the growing needs of our customers,” he said. “We have to remain committed to them and our core values as a company. If we do that, the sky is the limit. We’re looking forward to what the future holds.”