The life cycle of the acrylic fabrics used in clothing and bedding will be explained in this article.
Acrylic fabric is regarded as a wool substitute and is ideal for cooler temperatures thanks to its dense fibers and wool-like texture. Acrylics are frequently combined with other materials, such as wool, and are made from the common chemical acrylonitrile.
Is Acrylic sustainable? Generally speaking, acrylic is not a sustainable fabric. Acrylic material is made from fossil fuels, which require a lot of energy and toxic chemicals to manufacture, endangering both the environment and human health.
Let’s examine each phase of the life cycle in greater detail to learn how acrylic fabrics can be purchased more sustainably.
Is Acrylic Sustainable?
Because of their high energy and chemical requirements during production as well as the limited options available when the fabrics are no longer useful, acrylic fabrics are typically regarded as being unsustainable.
Using an acrylonitrile solution as the starting point, acrylic clothing is created. In the procedure known as polymerization, the solution is combined with additional chemicals.
To create fibers, this mixture is either wet or dry spun after the polymerized ingredients have been dissolved in a solvent. A solvent is used in wet spinning to cause the fibers to solidify. Heat will have similar effects when dry spinning.
Following that, the fibers are treated, crimped, cut, and spun into spools to prepare them for weaving.
How Sustainable is Acrylic Fabric?
We must evaluate the sustainability of each stage of the acrylic fabric life cycle in order to comprehend its sustainability.
Sourcing of Acrylic Fabrics
Acrylonitrile (85% and higher of the content) serves as the primary raw material for acrylic fabrics. It is an unsustainable raw material because acrylonitrile is typically produced using nonrenewable fossil fuels. A renewable biomass source can be used to produce acrylonitrile.
Because of the depletion of nonrenewable resources, the acceleration of climate change, and the environmental pollution brought on by the production of acrylonitrile from fossil fuels, using acrylonitrile as a raw material for acrylic fabrics is not sustainable.
Manufacturing of Acrylic Fabrics
In general, producing acrylic fabric is not sustainable. Energy-intensive and chemically risky, the process. When fossil fuels are used as the primary energy source at manufacturing locations, high energy demand could have negative ecological effects.
Potentially harmful to people, animals, and the environment are the toxic chemicals used in the process.
Transporting of Acrylic Fabrics
Because of the emissions produced by shipping and receiving vehicles, transporting items made of acrylic fabrics can be a carbon-intensive phase in their life cycle.
The typical route taken by acrylic fabrics begins in mines where fossil fuels were extracted to create acrylonitrile, the raw material for acrylic, and continues through processing factories, sorting hubs, retail outlets, and consumer homes before ending up in landfills or recycling facilities.
Usage of Acrylic Fabrics
Due to acrylic’s short lifespan, the use of acrylic fabrics is typically not very sustainable. Additionally, washing acrylic clothing while it is still in its usable state adds to the serious issue of marine environments containing microplastics.
Fabric made entirely of acrylic, without the addition of any other fibers, is prone to pilling and lacks abrasion resistance. As a result, it typically doesn’t have a long lifespan, especially when compared to the material it is intended to imitate, wool fabric.
Generally speaking, clothing that lasts a long time is more environmentally friendly because it requires fewer resources to produce because you don’t need to replace it as frequently.
The microplastics that are released into the environment as a result of washing acrylic fabrics pose a serious threat to sustainability.
End-of-life of Acrylic Fabrics
Because acrylic fabric cannot biodegrade, its final stage of use is not sustainable. Additionally, burning this material (as a method of disposal) may produce toxic fumes. The only disposal options for acrylic at the end of the fabric’s useful life are landfilling and incineration (burning).
To prevent the formation of toxic byproducts like cyanide from being released from the fibers, safe incineration of acrylic fabrics requires controlled conditions.
However, because acrylic fabrics, like many other synthetic materials, take 200 years or more to decompose, landfilling is not only technically feasible but also resource-intensive.
Natural fibers, on the other hand, like cotton and wool, can completely decompose. To give the soil nutrition again, they can also be composted. For instance, the average time for cotton to rot is 11 weeks.
Environmental Impacts of Acrylic Fabric
Like many synthetic fibers, acrylics can have a big impact on people and the environment during production, use, and degradation.
Even more than polyester and polyester blends, acrylic clothing is one of the major contributors to the ocean’s microplastic problem. A simple wash in a washing machine, where about 730,000 individual fibers are released per wash, is the first step toward aquatic environments.
Pollution accumulates as it moves up the food chain and eventually finds its way to those animals that play crucial ecological roles, and microplastics continue to harm marine life and absorb it.
Energy and water are both used up during the production of acrylics. Standards for the ventilation, storage, processing, and upkeep of wastewater have been set by regulations from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) since 2007. In addition to these environmental issues, acrylic fibers are not recyclable or biodegradable.
Conclusion: is Acrylic Sustainable?
Typically, acrylic fabric is not a very environmentally friendly material. Energy and chemicals are used heavily in the production of acrylic fabric. Washing garments made of acrylic fabrics contributes to the microplastic issue in marine environments. Furthermore, acrylic clothing is not biodegradable.
In addition to its environmental impacts, acrylonitrile is “harmful to the eyes, skin, lungs, and nervous system” when in contact with humans, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).
Does Acrylic Plastic Decompose?
Products and materials are considered biodegradable if they can be broken down by bacteria, microorganisms, and other living things. The materials used to manufacture acrylic are artificial and will not break down, and therefore are not considered a biodegradable material.
Is the Production of Acrylic Harmful to the Environment?
Carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and other substances are released during the production of acrylic. This is very harmful to our environment. Petroleum, a non-renewable resource, and other hazardous chemicals are used to make acrylic.
Is Acrylic Plastic Renewable?
Acrylic is not renewable due to its component makeup and it can be very difficult to recycle but this is offset by its durability and lifespan.