Talking Sustainability with Fabrizio Calenti

Innovative New Zealand carpet manufacturer Cavalier Bremworth has delivered a first: using a regenerated nylon known as ECONYL® in its new range of hard-wearing luxury carpets. The Siren range offers an array of colours and patterns in a 100 per cent nylon solution dyed carpet.

To find out more about the special yarn Cavalier Bremworth is using, MiNDFOOD sat down with Fabrizio Calenti, vice president of Aquafil, the company which makes ECONYL® yarn out of spent fishing nets and other Nylon waste.

How did the relationship with Cavalier Bremworth come about?

Cavalier Bremworth has been our client for quite a long time, and we have been supplying nylon to them since around 2011-12. Cavalier is a fantastic partner for us and for the ECONYL® brand. Cavalier Bremworth sees the value of the ECONYL®ingredient in their carpets. They manufacture fantastic carpets, but they also see the value of telling their clients who buy their carpets about a sustainable ingredient.

Tell us more about ECONYL® fiber .

It’s a journey that started in 2007-08 with a challenging R&D adventure which involved a number of research institutes and different experts in different technologies. We started a process to develop a technology allowing us to recycle nylon – it also allowed us to save up to 50 per cent of the CO2 emissions. The challenge was that there is no such thing as pure nylon products. Differentiated garbage collections usually focus on packaging material which is pure, like glass or wood or PET bottles. Nylon is a high-performance polymer – it’s a very expensive polymer – so it’s not used for packaging. So we had to focus on finding products containing nylon, because you can’t find pure nylon products to recycle.
We started working with the fishing industry and it was a nice surprise: a lot of fishnets are made of nylon, particularly fishnets used in the fish farming industry.

We started exploring the possibility of recycling fishnets and the fishing industry was very responsive. So we developed a reverse logistics system: we take back fishnets, predominantly from the fish farming industry. These fishnets are collected from all over the world – from Chile, Norway, Pakistan, Scotland – and shipped back to Slovenia, where we wash them, because it is not only nylon that we regenerate.

What happens with the parts of the nets that you can’t use?

Good question..

As of today, what is not Nylon in the “nylon containing waste” which we recycle cannot (obviously) become ECONYL Nylon. It is therefore sent (predominantly) to incineration. However, in line with our commitment to work with the supply chains generating the post consumer wastes which we recycle, we jointly explore ways to make the regeneration of their products easier, and effective.

We also support other activities pursuing different ways to reduce, (not only by mean of end of life regeneration, but also in different ways) those product’s environmental foot print.

In the fish farming value chain Our support consists of investments in joint programs to study ways to reuse the material contained in fish farming fish nets which is not Nylon. Some of those materials, like copper,  could certainly deliver value, and not only from an “intangible stand point”.

Furthermore, we actively participate, (making available knowledge, and financial resources) to research programs to identify biocides which could substitute copper, and could deliver a similar, or even better, antifouling effect. All of the above is part of the next chapter of the ECONYL journey. It will be even more exciting, and more rewarding, than the first one”.

What started you down the recycling route?

We had a large nylon company and we produced close to 100,000 tonnes of nylon every year – which is a big number. It was the vision of our chairman. I can tell you an interesting story: our chairman, Giulio Bonazzi, felt it was a necessity to start something that was something more sustainable.

How is the regenerating process for ECONYL® fiber different?

The most simple way to recycle plastic is you get the plastic product, you melt it, you produce a plastic pellet and you reuse it. Nylon is more complicated because the product is hardly ever pure. So if you melt a product that contains nylon, as it is not pure, you get a much lower quality. You can recycle nylon by melting it, but you downgrade and at the end of the day, you cannot use it any more.

The recycling we do is a chemical recycling, so we separate the nylon from the non-nylon components, then we depolymerise the nylon chemically, so we go back to the monomer in a chemical process. By doing so, we get pure nylon without any pollution from the non-nylon product.

Any plans to expand recycling further?

Oh yeah. It is a journey. And sometimes you have bumps, but you have more rewards than bumps. The bulk of the post-consumer waste [that we regenerate] comes from the fishnet industry, then the carpet industry. We do recycle a significant quantity of nylon textiles and waste from the garment industry. But we are also looking to the automotive industry. In every car you have – give or take – 250kg of plastic and about 50kg of that is nylon. We are actively working on R&D that would allow us to reuse the nylon content in automotive products. So that would be the next part of the story.

Designing for recycling is very complicated and you cannot do it just as a company, you have to do it with with your client and Cavalier Bremworth is a fantastic partner. They really believe in this. Even with Cavalier Bremworth, it’s a journey that just started.

A New Branch

Graham Paarman’s cabin-like tree house in the famously beautiful wine region of Constantia in Cape Town, South Africa, was inspired by a spot
on his family estate – a clearing among the trees overlooking four square reflection ponds. The ponds seemed to bring a certain magic to the clearing and galvanised Paarman’s decision to build a cabin there. “I always wanted something in the tree canopy,” he says. “I never wanted a building that was going to impose itself. I didn’t want something symmetrical. I hoped it would blend in and enhance its surroundings, and would invite the outside in.”

He also wanted something small. The “pure geometry of the square” became a “subliminal link”, says Jan-Heyn Vorster, one of a trio of architects who helped Paarman realise his tree house. “We investigated a rigorous geometric framework that also allows a sense of freedom,” says co-architect Pieter Malan. “Curved forms flowing from straight lines, rectangular shapes that become drums and the celebration of the connections between different elements.” The tree house began as a sketch of a square, the same size  as one of the reflection ponds. Along each edge, four circles represented four trees, creating a pinwheel-like floor plan. Groups of four steel pillars serve as tree trunks and rings overhead suggest branches. Branch-like beams in turn support the floors above. Each “tree” is a slightly different height.

“The tree that terminates at roof level became the circular drum for the staircase,” says Malan. It leads to a rooftop deck, an entertainment space and viewing platform looking over the estate’s beautifully landscaped gardens and, of course, the reflection ponds. Ascending the stairs feels a little like climbing a tree.

Vertical arrangement

The rooms are arranged vertically: one living space per floor. The living area is on the first level, the bedroom on the next and the open-air deck at the top. At the same time, a double volume space makes a vertical connection between the levels, and some of the rings extend beyond the edge of the square floorplate, creating cantilevered balconies. The structure is glassed in and covered with a veil of vertical cedar wood slats. “They create privacy at certain points and articulate the building in others,” says Malan. Their lines echo the “verticality of the surrounding trees”, so the building blends in beautifully. The staircase “drum” is the only really solid mass. “We wanted the contrast between something completely open and one really solid volume,” says Malan.

Paarman adds that, despite its compact size, the house doesn’t feel small. “There are tall sliding doors at the front that open up over both levels,” says Malan. The large vertical space opens up the living area, blurring the inside and outside. “It also plays with the idea of scale,” says Vorster. “You are in this vastness of the landscape, but you are also in the building.” “It’s the encapsulation of cocoon living,” says Paarman. “But at the same time, I think we all have a connection to nature, and this house captures that in a very special way. You can see the fantastic night skies, and the squirrels in the trees. You can hear the birds from inside, too.”

The building is small, making minute attention to detail possible, and the fact that the structure is expressed in every aspect of the design meant nothing could be hidden. “All of the mechanics of the building are aesthetic, design elements,” says Vorster. The choice of materials prompted many final design decisions as the building went up. Malan explains, “Generally, the vertical elements are steel. They support the horizontal elements, which are timber beams and floor plates. Those connections are expressed in little turned brass, hand-machined connections. The idea of crafting the structural components gave us an opportunity to design those things beautifully. We turned them into beautiful, elegant sculptural elements.” Organic change over time The architects used Corten steel in flat sheets, rather than standard, round mild steel sections. Folding the steel appealed to them, as did the fact that it gains a patina over time, rusting and turning a coppery or ferrous orange colour. The cedar wood they used will also weather. “Materials are allowed to change,” says Vorster. “It works in a natural, organic direction.” The colour of the Corten’s patination, and its high copper content, lead to warm metals such as brass and copper being chosen for the junctions. These materials are echoed in many of the other finishings, such as the taps, showerhead and lamps. The architects designed the interiors, too. “It’s lovely to have the opportunity to take the concept right through to the furnishings,” says Vorster. “The same care goes into choosing a piece of furniture as making the space.”

Focus on the outside

“I’m a fan of warm materials and textures – wood, stone and leather,” says Paarman. “We tried to keep the colours subdued and almost neutral so that you’re really more aware of what is going on outside the house rather than being colourful and flashy on the inside,” adds Malan. Linens, wool and leather in ochre, deep blue, taupe and brown dominate the interior spaces.

“The architecture makes a strong statement,” says Paarman. “But at the same time, it has become a sanctuary. It has almost become transformative as far as lifestyle is concerned.” Just as the floating tree house is immersed in nature, it also offers a meditation on our relationship with nature, like those four ponds that inspired it. Or, as Paarman says, “It’s just a very special space.”

Click on the images below to take a tour through this incredible treehouse.