It is reasonable to wonder about the environmental impact of Acrylic fabrics given their widespread use. This will be thoroughly examined in this article.
In many applications, including eyeglasses, lenses, and even airplane cockpits, Acrylic fabric, also known as Poly Acrylic glass, is used in place of glass. The medical technology, automotive, and aerospace industries are just a few examples.
Is Acrylic fabric bad for the environment? Yes, it does not decompose and the manufacturing process produces highly toxic fumes. Furthermore, recycling Acrylic is a challenge.
This article will examine the toxicity, biodegradability, and composition of Acrylic plastic.
Is Acrylic Clothing Bad for the Environment?
Acrylic fabric is not sustainable, primarily as a result of the production process. Given the damage that the finished product can cause to the environment if it is discarded improperly, it is also bad for the environment.
In essence, plastic threads made of synthetic polymer fiber produced through a chemical process from fossil fuels are used to make Acrylic fabrics.
Similar to how polyester and polyamide (nylon) fabric is made, Acrylic fabric is made in a similar manner. Fossil fuels like coal, petroleum, and natural gas undergo polymerization as a result of being heated and under pressure.
Is Acrylic Environmentally Friendly?
Acrylic fabrics are not environmentally friendly.
Beyond just their manufacturing process, fabrics have other characteristics. Acrylic fiber is used in place of wool or combined with cashmere or sheep wool to create hats, socks, and other products. It also closely resembles the look and feel of wool fiber. The issue with this is that it can be used anywhere, causing harm or posing environmental risks.
First, Acrylic fabric is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water, just like nylon and polyester. It could be misrepresented as requiring a lot of water to clean, leading to excessive water use and disregard for the environment.
Additionally, Acrylic fabrics continue to be harmful to the environment throughout their lifetime, releasing microplastics into the supply of water every time they are washed. Around the world, both freshwater and saltwater sources of these microplastics contribute to 85% of the human-made debris found along shorelines.
Its ability to repel water also means that bacteria may grow in the fabric, endangering its structure and producing odors. The Acrylic fabric also has a higher propensity to cling and produce static electricity.
Second, unlike wool, which is very difficult to ignite, Acrylic fabrics are highly flammable and can be very challenging to put out. When a fabric catches fire, chemicals from the plastic or fossil fuels used in its manufacture will be released into the air, harming the environment.
Thirdly, don’t forget about how much energy and heat are used to create these fabrics, which is bad for the environment.
Furthermore, it is dependent on non-renewable fossil fuels like crude oil, natural gas, and petroleum, which if used carelessly could harm the environment. Climate change and global warming are largely caused by this production process and the materials used.
It only seems fair to include the effects Acrylic fabrics have on people, which, in general, could also mean a bad impact on the environment. Polyacrylonitrile is a flammable, colorless liquid that is produced from polypropylene and is used to make Acrylic fiber.
According to the EPA, cyanide poisoning has symptoms that are comparable to those of polyacrylonitrile inhalation. In fact, our bodies convert polyacrylonitrile into cyanide when exposed to the substance. The primary ingredient in Acrylic yarns, acrylonitrile, has also been noted as a possible carcinogen through skin absorption.
Last but not least, remember the environmental impact of such fabric after it is dumped in landfills. As long as it is in a landfill, it can remain there for up to 200 years, poisoning nearby lands, crops, and water sources as toxins are released into the environment during that time.
Environmental Impact of Acrylic Fabric
Acrylic fabric is a synthetic fabric and has various impacts on the environment which can be broken down into the following subheads:
- Decomposition: Non-biodegradable and challenging to break down, Acrylic fibers. About 200 years is the maximum time that Acrylic fibers can last in the environment.
- Production Process: Because toxic chemicals and volatile materials are used in the production of Acrylic fiber, it is important to carefully monitor how these materials are disposed of because they have the potential to harm the environment if not handled carefully. Additionally, the volatile substance has the potential to enter fields, which would negatively impact crop cultivation’s yield.
- Environment Pollution: When washed, Acrylic fibers have the potential to pill (form little balls of broken fibers). The microscopic fiber balls that are created during washing get into the water system and contaminate the water and surroundings. Filtering and recycling these fiber fragments is challenging.
- Health Hazards: Because the polymer used to make Acrylic, polyacrylonitrile, is flammable by nature, the fabric is finished with an organophosphate flame retardant to prevent any untoward incidents. However, Acrylic fiber comes with a small health risk because, in the United States, these polymers are regarded as carcinogenic. Cancer and other skin-related diseases are brought on by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Is Acrylic Biodegradable?
No, Acrylic does not entirely decompose.
In general, plastics cannot or only partially biodegrade. This is due to the fact that biodegradation necessitates the use of living organisms, specifically bacteria, to dissolve a substance’s carbon bonds.
Organic matter is broken down by microorganisms into natural products like CO2 and water.
Although plastics like Acrylic are technically organic substances, their synthetic composition means that they have been bonded together (through polymerization) in a way that makes biodegradation extremely challenging.
After investigation, scientists discovered that only about 60–80% of Acrylic could be partially biodegraded; the remaining portion could not.
They do propose that there might be additional mechanisms for the organic breakdown of Acrylic, such as specific enzymes.
Although other possibilities are being looked into, there are currently no known microorganisms that can completely degrade Acrylic, so there are only a few practical uses.
Is Acrylic Recyclable?
Acrylic plastic can be recycled to a great extent. This does not imply, though, that it is recycled.
Thermoplastics currently account for 76% of all plastic consumed worldwide. At least 85% of plastics, as is evident, are disposed of in landfills. 10% get incinerated, leaving only a small amount that actually gets recycled.
The recycling of Acrylic is fraught with a number of challenges and complexities. The demand for and price of Acrylic has both increased significantly over the past few years, which presents a high return on investment opportunity for recycling Acrylic.
Furthermore, it can be fully depolymerized, or broken down once more into its methyl methacrylate base units, to be used for other purposes.
Despite the apparent strong incentive to recycle Acrylic, most facilities lack the tools or funds necessary to do so in the majority of cases.
Is Acrylic Toxic?
Although the finished Acrylic plastic is not toxic, questions have been raised about the production process’s safety.
The primary ingredient in Acrylic, methyl methacrylate, is a reactive and highly flammable substance that may cause severe irritation in some workers.
Workers who produce Acrylic are at risk of developing skin, eye, and respiratory tract irritation due to exposure to methyl methacrylate, according to the CDC.
Methyl methacrylate has also been classified by the EPA as a hazardous air pollutant that poses a risk to both human health and the environment.
The industrial use of powdered PMMA (the polymerized form of methyl methacrylate) has also been linked in research as posing a dangerous respiratory risk.
The experimenters point out that although those who work directly with powdered PMMA are at the greatest risk, exposure risk may increase as non-industrial consumers have easier access to industrial technologies (like those used in the research).
Is Acrylic Sustainable?
No, acrylic is not sustainable.
First of all, as we already stated, the majority of Acrylic plastic is disposed of in landfills. It is still part of an industry that is heavily dependent on energy and does not degrade easily.
The energy required to produce Acrylics, in particular, depends heavily on fossil fuels in the latter scenario. Carbon dioxide in large amounts was released during the burning of fossil fuels. For instance, we can see that each kilogram of Acrylic produces 7.13 kilograms of CO2.
Rarely is the precise output of Acrylic production displayed on its own. Though we can make a rough estimate based on market analysis:
- With 37% of the global Acrylic market, the US holds the largest share.
- In 2021, 495,000 tonnes of Acrylic were produced in Germany, which accounts for a relatively small 16.9% of the overall market.
- The US would produce about 1 million tonnes of Acrylic if we extrapolated based on the US market share.
Accordingly, the US Acrylic industry would be one of the main contributors to climate change, emitting roughly 71 million tonnes of CO2 annually.
As one of the most prevalent types of plastic in the ocean, Acrylic must also be taken into account.
Scientific research shows that the manufacturing of motors, scrap, fabrics, and appliances is the sector most accountable for Acrylic pollution.
In the ocean, output from these industries ends up in the form of microplastic, which is small particles of plastic debris that, according to research, can:
- Absorb harmful chemicals and release toxic additives
- Contaminate aquatic and terrestrial environments
- Disrupt the cellular membranes of living creatures, damaging cell tissue
Environmentally Friendly Alternatives to Acrylic
- Glass: Glass has a much lower environmental impact than Acrylic, despite costing a little bit more. The number of times glass can be recycled is practically limitless. glass is also one of the least toxic materials you can use in your kitchen
- Steel: Steel is very robust and completely recyclable.
- Wood And Bamboo Boxes: Wood and bamboo have a slight environmental impact if they are grown and harvested sustainably. They can easily last for years because they are comparatively durable.
- Natural Fabrics – Cotton, jute, and other natural fabrics can be used instead of Acrylic fibers because they are more environmentally friendly and much more sustainable.
Conclusion: Environmental Impact of Acrylic Fabric
Despite all of its harmful effects on the environment, Acrylic is here to stay. Before it can be replaced, it will be a long time. Most alternatives to Acrylic are either much more expensive or less reliable.
As a result, Acrylic fabrics have a significant negative impact on the environment. Avoid using Acrylic fabrics or purchase used or thrift store clothing if you must! Even making a new garment out of an old one is something you can try.
Is Acrylic Fabric Harmful?
On its own, Acrylic fabric is highly flammable, which means it must be treated with toxic flame retardants to avoid the possibility of grievously injuring the wearer. The types of flame retardants that are employed are referred to as organophosphates, and these hazardous substances gradually build up in the body.
Is Acrylic Or Polyester Worse for the Environment?
The manufacture, use, and decomposition of Acrylics can have a significant negative impact on both people and the environment, similar to many synthetic fibers. Acrylic clothing is one of the main sources of microplastics in the ocean, even higher than polyester and polyester blends.
Which Fabric Has the Lowest Environmental Footprint?
In itself, cotton may seem like an environmentally-friendly material because it’s natural and biodegradable — and it is a better alternative to other fibers. Cotton doesn’t need as many bothersome chemicals as other natural fibers like rayon and bamboo.