Durable nylon, found in everything from clothing and carpets, to bags and tents, can be recycled through certain takeback programs.

Just about everyone has nylon around their home. It is in the backpacks our kids take to school, the pantyhose women wear to work and the cheap, reusable shopping bags everyone is handing out these days. When you are ready to dispose of items made of nylon, what are your options? There are very few places that accept nylon for recycling. It is unlikely that you can recycle it through your curbside program, and equally so that your local recycling center will have a handy bin that says, “Put your unwanted nylon here!” Your ability to recycle nylon depends largely on the form it takes; for example, nylon pantyhose are easier to recycle than nylon backpacks. But remember: If you cannot recycle an item made of nylon, you may be able to reuse it rather than putting it in the trash.

What is nylon?

Nylon is a type of fabric made from petroleum products. It is commonly used to make clothing, backpacks and bags, stockings or tights, outdoor gear such as tents, rope, carpet and many other items we use every day. Since it is made of petroleum products it will not biodegrade. Nylon was first developed in the 1930s as an alternative to silk. There are lots of great qualities about the fabric. It is lightweight yet strong, and it is often touted for its quick-drying capabilities. Clothing manufacturers like it because it holds dye well. It is also less expensive to produce than silk and does not get damaged as easily. The problem with nylon is that, like many fabrics, it is difficult to recycle, especially once it has been used. Second-hand fabrics typically need to be cleaned before they can be recycled, and it is often not cost-effective for companies to do that. However, there are a few nylon recycling options out there.

How to recycle or reuse nylon bags

Nylon bags are challenging to recycle unless you purchase one from a company that offers a takeback program. San Francisco-based Timbuk2 is one such company. Once your nylon messenger or camera bag is worn out, simply stick it in a box and mail it to the company at the address provided on its website. Timbuk2 will reuse or recycle as many of the materials as possible. There is no charge for the company’s recycling services (other than the cost of postage), and customers that send in products to be recycled will receive a 20% discount on a future purchase. There may also be creative ways to reuse unwanted nylon bags. If you have a backpack that is in good shape that you no longer want, consider donating it to a thrift shop or a program that helps children get school supplies. If you have a large shopping bag with a hole it in, cut it apart and use the good nylon to make a smaller storage bag.

How to recycle or reuse nylon fabric

Leftover nylon fabric from a sewing project is a great material to reuse. See if your community has an organization that provides fabric and supplies to artists and schools. Materials for the Arts in New York City and The Scrap Exchange in Durham, NC, are a few examples. If you have nylon clothing you want to recycle, and you purchased that clothing from popular outdoor gear manufacturer Patagonia, you can return it to the company for recycling. Get more information about Patagonia’s recycling program on its website.

How to recycle and reuse nylons or tights

No Nonsense, which makes nylons, tights and other types of leggings, offers a recycling program for consumers. The first step is visit their pantyhose recycling page and print a prepaid mailing label. Next, place all your unwanted nylon leggings in a box and put on the shipping label. Drop it at your nearest post office or other mailing location, and your old nylons are on their way to a recycling facility. No Nonsense sends the material to a plant that recycles it into things like playground equipment, toys and vehicle insulation. There are lots of ways to reuse old nylons as well.
  • Put a bar of soap in the toe of a clean nylon (make sure there is no run in that section). Tie off the open end and hang the sock by the sink. When you go to wash your hands, get them plenty wet then roll the sock between your hands. This works really well in potting sheds, barns or other places where a soap dish might not be practical.
  • Use nylons to tie up tomatoes or other plants that need support as they grow.
  • Fill a clean nylon with potpourri or lavender. Use it as a sachet in your drawers, car or any other area you want to smell fresh.

How to recycle nylon carpet

If your community has a carpet recycler, it may be able to take your old nylon carpet. Shaw Floors is a nationwide company that recycles a certain type of nylon carpet. It has locations in more than 30 cities, including San Jose, CA; Tulsa, OK; Tallahassee, FL; and Boston. Give them a call, or use 1800Recycling’s recycle search tool to find the carpet recycler nearest you.

Buy recycled nylon

Recycling fans can also watch for products made from recycled nylon. Patagonia has come up with a way of turning nylon cuttings from factories and discarded fishing nets into recycled nylon for some of their products. Learn more about Patagonia’s program for nylon recycling (and many other fabrics) here.