As a Group 7 plastic, acrylic plastic is not easily recycled, or even collected for recycling, since it isn’t readily biodegradable. Some acrylics are actually highly flammable, and so must be kept away from sources of combustion. However, it is possible for PMMA, a major acrylic, to be recycled in certain ways. For example, contact of PMMA with molten lead leads to depolymerization, essentially converting the non-biodegradable polymer PMMA into biodegradable monomer MMA. The problem with this method is the undesirability of using lead from an environmental viewpoint. That’s why other recycling methods are underway.
Acrylic: Number 7 Plastic
When it comes to recycling, plastics are divided into seven categories. Most recycling centers will accept only the first two categories as recyclable, meaning that numbers 3 to 7 are considerably more difficult to recycle. Plastics, like acrylics and nylons, fall into the number 7 category, so at first glance, it might seem that acrylics cannot be recycled. However, as recycling continues to gain currency in this environment, facilities are increasingly becoming equipped to handle other plastics as well. Plus, it should be borne in mind that the classification number of seven includes plastics that don’t fit into categories 1 through 6, and so contain items like bio-based products developed from starch and corn. In other words, it’s a broad category, and therefore an imperfect way to classify plastics.
Certain kinds of acrylic plastics are more easily recyclable than others. There are two major types of acrylic: polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and polymethyl acrylate (PMA). The former, as the introduction mentions, is easier to recycle through the use of lead, but newer recycling methods are currently in development as well in order to offset the environmental harms caused by lead.
Uses of Recycled Acrylic
Recycled acrylic has any number of applications. The sheets that result after recycling can specifically be used in construction work in doors and windows, as well as in chandeliers and fluorescent lamps. Recycled acrylic is also used to make certain surgical devices and baby incubators, along with constructing trains and vehicles. The advertising industry also makes use of the material within light boxes and signs.
Why Acrylic Plastics Need to be Recycled
The modern world sees a fundamental problem when it comes to acrylic plastics: they are not disposed of properly by consumers. Due to the dramatic rise in the usage of plastics, disposable products have become a new norm, to the extent that they dominate when it comes to trash and landfills. A whopping 25% of waste in these landfills is nothing but plastics! Most plastics, including acrylics, are non-biodegradable, meaning they do not degrade at a fast enough rate to avoid being a threat to marine life and birds in the ocean and coastal ecosystems. The production of plastics like acrylics from fossil fuels also fosters a dependence on such fuels, despite the fact that they are not environmentally sustainable. All of this creates an urgent need for acrylics and other plastics to go through a recycling process in order to make them usable again.