Why is acrylic a sustainable material?
The oxymoron of 'sustainable plastic' - can acrylic be a sustainable material?
Written by Hollie-Beth McGregor Updated May 22 –
What is Sustainability?
In 1987, the United Nations Brundtland Commission gathered and defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
Sustainability strives to achieve an equilibrium between consumption and consideration to committing to use less, and more eco-conscious, materials. According to UCLA, the three pillars of sustainable development are economic growth, environmental protection, and social equality. This model can be applied to all elements of life.
As we’ve seen, excessive consumption by our planet leads to climate change, various forms of pollution, and a decline in the health of our ecosystems. This is because our current linear economy is no longer viable in creating a sustainable future. With our world’s population expected to peak at 10bn by 2050, it is crucial to remember that the earth’s raw materials are not infinite.
Businesses must start engaging in responsible production, ensuring that products and services achieve the maximum life and value a resource can offer. Sustainable manufacturing is not only something that should now be encouraged, but is a moral, environmental, and economic imperative.
Manufacturing and Sustainability
For manufacturing, implementing sustainable practices is an ongoing commitment, and undoubtedly presents its challenges. Yet, with over 95% of the world’s goods produced relying on the chemical industry in some way (add link to statistic: https://sdg.iisd.org/news/icca-report-highlights-chemical-industrys-contribution-to-global-economy/), our industry plays a vital role in investigating sustainable solutions.
To embrace sustainable development, manufacturing must remain innovative. Here at Midton, we are committed to continuous research and development, keeping up with developments in the latest technologies and products to ensure we are playing our part. This lets us environmentally grow, and also meet the market’s needs.
Part of the solution to this global climate emergency is embracing the circular economy, which holds the ultimate goal of designing out waste. This term not only applies to manufacturing, but to life, with the thinking that everything has value, and nothing should be wasted. Thinking simply, a circular economy follows “make, use, remake”, as opposed to “make, use, dispose”.
So, the important question, is acrylic aligned with sustainable manufacturing? Can we embrace the circular economy?
Is Acrylic a Sustainable Material?
Yes - surprisingly to many, acrylic is a highly sustainable material.
PMMA is a versatile, durable, recyclable and therefore sustainable material, and for this reason is key to a range of sustainable solutions.
As a material, the unique properties of acrylic enables us to work with less. An obvious example of this is seen in the acrylic’s lightweight, offering the same structural stability of much heavier materials. Because of this, when vehicles use acrylic, it makes them much lighter, meaning a reduction in energy.
Commonly used throughout day-to-day life, acrylic offers outstanding chemical stability. This often ensures a service time spreading over decades, which exceeds competitor materials. Compared with other materials with a lesser chemical stability, the footprint of using acrylic over a lifetime is considerably lower.
It is no secret that plastics have a notoriously bad reputation for their impact on the environment. However, plastics in fact have a very good environmental profile, with the industry a leader in research and development, and innovation. As a group, plastics make a huge contribution to sustainable development through the likes of recyclability and both energy-saving and energy-recovering options.
Where acrylic runs into trouble is the lack of education and facilities surrounding its recycling capabilities. While companies and manufacturers are most commonly keen to recycle their waste plastic, the limited availability of knowledgeable and ethical recycling facilities prevents them from doing so. As a Group 7 plastic, many recycling companies do not have the facilities to recycle acrylics. Due to this, acrylic is one of the least recycled types of plastic - leading to its bad reputation and impact on the environment.
The material, however, is highly recyclable. Acrylic can be chipped, melted and extruded into new products. PMMA is also infinitely recyclable, meaning it can be recycled again and again - never losing its properties.
At Midton, we identified the gap in recycling and knew we had to change this. We invested in a chipper for our factory, to recycle not only our waste, but also our clients’. This allowed us to develop our innovative material, Remade. Remade is manufactured with upto 70% recycled content and is 100% recyclable.
Overall, provided with the right resources and education, acrylic is a hugely sustainable material for you to use. Versatile, customisable, durable, lightweight and recyclable - acrylic is an obvious choice for many bespoke sustainability-focused projects.