Acrylic plastic is a tough, durable, versatile material that is often used as a replacement for glass, among many other uses.
But like all plastics, the main problem is what to do with it when it reaches the end of its life.
But is acrylic recyclable? The answer is yes it is, but with difficulty. As a group 7 plastic, acrylic is not commonly accepted for curbside recycling.
In this article, we'll discuss how to recycle acrylic properly, its environmental impacts, and what you should (and shouldn't) do to dispose of it responsibly.
Acrylic is a thermoplastic that can be melted and molded into a variety of shapes. It is a clear, colorless material that is often used in place of glass.
Acrylic resin is made from a synthetic polymer known as polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). This polymer is derived from monomers of methyl methacrylate, which are themselves derived from petroleum.
During the manufacturing process, the PMMA polymers are poured into molds, which shape them for a particular purpose, such as acrylic glass sheets, tubes, or rods.
Acrylic has a wide range of benefits over regular glass, including its shatter-resistance, lighter weight, and greater flexibility.
As a result, it is commonly used in a variety of applications, such as windows, eyeglasses, skylights, and aquariums.
A lot of people assume that because acrylic is a transparent plastic, it can be recycled just like plastic bottles. However, that isn't necessarily the case.
You might be aware that all plastic products carry a plastic recycling symbol. Acrylic is #7, which is generally considered difficult to recycle.
While some recyclers will accept acrylic, it can be difficult to find someone who will recycle it properly.
The recycling process for acrylic is different from the process for other plastics, and not all recyclers are equipped to handle it.
Most local authorities do not accept scrap acrylic for curbside pickup.
However, there are some companies that specialize in recycling acrylic waste. The recycling process involves breaking down the acrylic into small pellets, which can then be used to create new products.
So, while it is possible to recycle acrylic plastic, it can be difficult to do so. If you are interested in getting your acrylic recycled, you may want to contact a local recycling company to see if they accept this type of material.
If you have large quantities of acrylic plastics, you can contact a company such as Power Plastic Recycling. They actually buy acrylic scrap, but usually only at a scale that makes it worthwhile for them, and not for individual items.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit is that it helps to reduce plastic pollution and keeps scrap acrylic plastic out of landfills.
Acrylic is made from petroleum, a fossil fuel, and a non-renewable resource. By recycling it, we can help to use fewer fossil fuels which can reduce carbon emissions.
In addition, recycling acrylic helps to create jobs in the manufacturing sector. And because it is a lightweight material, transporting recycled acrylic requires less energy than other types of plastic, further reducing its environmental impact.
From reducing pollution to creating jobs, it’s clear that there are many reasons to recycle acrylic.
Like all other types of plastics, acrylic is not biodegradable, meaning it cannot be broken down by natural processes.
This means that if and when acrylic waste ends up in landfills, that's where it is likely to remain, perhaps indefinitely and at the very least for hundreds of years.
No, because acrylic does not biodegrade it is also not compostable. You cannot (or at least, should not) add any acrylic material to your home compost pile.
Acrylic will only melt at temperatures over 320 degrees Fahrenheit (160° Celsius), so it is unlikely that you would be able to do this at home.
Also, because producing acrylic involves the use of chemicals, it is likely to release dangerous gases when melted.
For these reasons, melting acrylic is not an acceptable method of disposal for recycling companies, and is certainly not something you should attempt yourself.
Acrylic materials are derived from petroleum, which is a finite and non-renewable resource, and also a fossil fuel.
Straight away this tells you that acrylic plastic, like all other types, is not an eco-friendly material.
However, the manufacturing process for acrylics is relatively efficient, and the resulting products are very durable. As a result, acrylics can actually have a lower environmental impact than some other materials.
For example, glass is easier to break than acrylic, although it can also be recycled more easily and is less harmful to produce.
Furthermore, acrylic products are often used in applications where they will be exposed to harsh conditions or heavy use and are less breakable than glass. This means that they tend to last longer than other materials.
However, despite the handful of positives, the fact that it is so hard to recycle, and does not biodegrade or compost, means that acrylic plastic cannot be considered eco-friendly.
Like most plastics, the production of acrylic has a significant carbon footprint.
As well as being incredibly energy-intensive, the production process produces harmful fumes which can be damaging to human health as well as the environment.
Because many recycling companies don't accept it, acrylic is often disposed of in landfills, where it can leach toxic chemicals into the soil and groundwater.
What's more, plastics have been found to emit greenhouse gases when exposed to direct sunlight.
Considering that acrylic products include outdoor signs and glazing, it is clear that this material damages the environment even before it gets thrown away.
No. Since it is made from fossil fuels, and cannot easily be recycled, there is no way that acrylic plastic can ever be classed as sustainable.
Yes, it is possible to produce acrylic resin from recycled materials.
Companies such as EcoGreen are now making recycled acrylic sheets using advanced technologies.
These recycled plastic sheets are just as strong and durable as regular acrylic sheets, but with the advantage of keeping waste acrylic material out of landfills. They're also HSC and VOC-free.
Yes, because acrylic recycling is so difficult, a lot of acrylic plastic does end up in landfills. When it gets there, it does not biodegrade, so will remain where it is, perhaps indefinitely.
Like most non-recycled plastics, it will then begin to leach chemicals into the soil, and will also emit harmful fumes including methane when it is exposed continuously to direct sunlight
From an environmental perspective, this is an absolute nightmare.
Yes, because acrylic plastic is so tough and durable, you can reuse it.
In fact, given that acrylic is not recycled easily, and the horrible effects it has in landfills, it is far better to go down the zero-waste living route and reuse any acrylic products that you have.
You may need to get creative and think of new and innovative ways to repurpose your items, but it shouldn't be too hard to think of ways in which you can use such a strong and durable material to make useful objects around your home or business.
Acrylic plastic can be recycled, but it's not easy to do, and many local authorities and recycling centers don't accept it. However, some specialist plastic recycling companies do.
If acrylic plastics are allowed to go into landfill, which far too many do, the environmental impact can be severe.
The best and most environmentally friendly option is to reuse acrylic materials wherever possible.
If you can't do that, be sure to check with your local recycling center to see if they accept acrylic and what the process is. If you’re not able to recycle it there, try to contact other companies such as TAP Plastics, which do recycle acrylics, to see whether they can help.
Have you tried to recycle or dispose of any acrylic products lately? What were the results? Get in touch and let us know your experiences.