Our oceans are full of trash and debris, but now a new consortium of European companies and NGOs have a plan in place to collect that debris and recycle it. Aided by the European Centre for Nature Conservation (ECNC), plastics manufacturer Aquafil and sock maker Star Sock have announced a new initiative that will collect debris, especially fishing nets, and transform into new nylon for textiles. Since 2011, The ‘Healthy Seas, a Journey from Waste to Wear’ initiative has already collected 16,000 tons of pre- and post-consumer waste and turned it into new polymers and yarns.

Every year, approximately 640,000 tons of fishing nets are abandoned in the oceans, accounting for one-tenth of all marine litter. The Healthy Seas initiative aims not only to clear the oceans of this and more debris, but to turn it all into something useful. Currently, the initiative is developing best practices in the North, Adriatic and Mediterranean seas, so the project can be rolled out worldwide in coming years. They are also identifying methods to discourage abandoning fishing equipment and encouraging responsible use. Finally the group will share their findings with governments and other organizations to encourage best practices.

The bulk of their work though is to physically collect and recycle the ocean debris. To this end, Aquafil created a new product, Econyl, a nylon product from recycled plastics. Econly can be used in a variety of applications, including fiber for synthetic carpet, textiles for apparel and for injected molded plastics. In 2012, the material was made using 30% post-consumer waste collected from the oceans, but this year in 2013, they will bump up the ocean-collected recycled content to 50%. For every 10,000 tons of Econyl produced, the initiative will eliminate 11,000 tons of waste, save 70,000 barrels of oil and avoid 41,000 tons of CO2 emissions.

+ Healthy Seas Initiative