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Sabine Anton-Katzenbach

Expert Opinion

12th July 2012

Trapped in ecology

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important in the textiles supply chain. Since Texcare 2012 (Frankfurt/Main) it is stretching out its fingers into the dirt trapping mat industry, too. For the first time Milliken from Manchester and Austria based Kleen-Tex Industries presented product ranges with piles made from recycled polyester and nylon fibres.

The European textile floor-covering industry has long since had big demand for polyamide fibres such as PA 6 and PA 6.6. The annual production of carpets, dirt trapping mats and flooring in Europe is estimated at one billion square meters per year which complies with the same amount of waste.

It is said that the disposal quantity of carpets reaches almost 1.6 million tons per year in Europe of which almost 80% is composed of carpet tiles made from nylon fibres – mostly PA 6 and PA 6.6.

Since the mid-1970s polyamide fibres have played an important role in the business of portable dirt trapping mats, too. The synthetic fibre provides strength, hard-wearing properties, rot and bacteria resistance. Solution dyed polyamide types are also available, offering good fastness against light and industrial laundering. The backing of these mats normally consists of micro perforated nitrile rubber.

Despite of the large quantity of recyclable fibres, textile floor-covering in Europe went the classical way of waste for a long time: the majority was sent to municipal waste combustors or landfill, a minor part was shipped to waste-to-energy plants. Very little was down cycled by other industries such as the concrete manufacturing where waste carpets replace fossil combustible material.

Yet, caprolactam, the basic chemistry of nylon fibres, has long been known for its limited availability. As polyamide fibres allow a closed-loop recycling process which results in fibres that are indistinguishable from virgin PA 6 and PA 6.6, the awareness to reusing an important resource was being raised in Europe in the mid-1990s when an extensive research project was launched in the carpet industry.

Polyamide fibre chains can be depolymerised and broken down into the main building block caprolactam. It can be reused for the manufacturing of polyamide fibres but mainly becomes blended with virgin caprolactam. These fibres are said to match the mechanical and physical performance of similar commercial grades.

Caprolactam that was processed through a nylon recycling facility has an ecological impact, too: US fibre mills claim that the manufacturing of PA 6 requires 40% less energy while the energy consumption for PA 6.6 is 18% less than fibres made exclusively with virgin caprolactam.

The water consumption is 15% less, organic waste can be reduced severely and usage of crude oil is shaved off one ton per each ton of recycled polyamide fibres. Nonetheless, mats for very long have not been known to be made from recycled polyamide fibres.

Yet, sustainability is a major topic in the textile rental service and creates needs for eco-friendly dirt trapping mats.

Milliken, one of the key players in the ‘walk-off-mat’ business, has set up a project regarding the use of 100% recycled polyamide to produce a full range of solution dyed mats with total compatibility with the existing product line in terms of aesthetics and performance. At 2012´s Texcare show in Frankfurt/Main the company presented its first mat with Econyl (Aquafil USA) pile which is made from post-consumer and post-industrial waste.

Kufstein based Kleen-Tex Industries is another supplier of dirt trapping mats. The company followed the path of sustainability, too, but placed emphasis on PET bottles which were transformed into fibres. Green-Horse mats consist of 25 bottles per square meter of solution-dyed mat fabric and come in a colour range of smokey black, black, smokey grey and red. They are suitable for laundering and drying at 60° C.

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