Posted on 06, February, 2023
Last Modified on 25, August, 2023
When acrylic sheets are cut to size or shaped into fabricated displays, the scrap can't simply be tossed into a regular recyling bin. For a material that's so widely used in both business and consumer applications, that's a lot of waste bound for the landfill. That's why specialized recyclers have made it their mission to reduce that waste by taking acrylic scrap and processing it into new sheets of recycled acrylic, thus extending the lifetime of the raw materials used to create it. At Displays2go, we're always searching for ways to do what we do with less impact to the environment, and recycled acrylic is a great fit.
Read on to learn about how recycled acrylic compares to new, or what is known as "virgin," acrylic.
What is recycled acrylic?
Recycled acrylic is exactly what it sounds like: acrylic sheets made from scrap produced during the fabrication or cutting process. Instead of heading to the landfill, this material is collected and processed into a raw material that is then formed into brand new sheets of strong, crystal-clear recycled acrylic. We don't just use recycled acrylic in our finished products—we contribute significantly to the pipeline. When we fabricate beautiful acrylic displays here at Displays2go, our scraps are recycled into new sheets by our manufacturing partners. In 2022, we recycled over 100,000 lbs of scrap waste into usable acrylic material.
What’s the difference between recycled acrylic and virgin acrylic material?
On the whole, post-industrial recycled acrylic performs the same as virgin acrylic. There are three main factors you should consider when judging the quality of acrylic:
- Clarity — How much light passes through the material? Our recycled acrylic allows 92% percent light transmission, which is the same as virgin acrylic.
- Long-term Usage — UV exposure can cause certain materials to yellow. You’ve probably seen this if you’ve ever left a book or poster in the window. Just like virgin acrylic, our recycled acrylic remains clear and does not yellow over time.
- Durability — Many everyday factors can cause damage to acrylic displays. Bumps, scratching, pressure, and changes in ambient heat are unavoidable in the real world. When tested for strength, flexibility, hardness, and thermal expansion, recycled acrylic scores the same as virgin acrylic.
For additional comparisons, see our expanded infographic with test results and more.
Why is recycled acrylic a better choice for the environment?
Acrylic is not biodegradable and takes a long time to decompose—somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 years. This means that fabrication scrap that is simply tossed into the dumpster and carted off to the landfill doesn’t break down readily, taking up space and making our global waste problem worse. On a positive note, acrylic is a thermoplastic and therefore has properties that allow it to be melted and restored repeatedly; in other words, it’s recyclable.
So what can we do to reduce our impact? Recycle it. Producing one sheet of recycled acrylic means that one sheet's worth of virgin acrylic scrap didn’t end up in a landfill. By recycling it, it can serve its purpose as a strong, durable material for displays, rather than just becoming waste.
In the process of recycling, fewer CO2 emissions are produced compared to manufacturing brand new, virgin acrylic. While the environmental impact has already occurred, we can offset that by using what we already have, thus producing less CO2, rather than emitting more of it. Additionally, because you’re not starting from scratch, recycled acrylic manufacturing uses less raw material and water in its process.
On top of all that, recycled acrylic scrap is recyclable itself, meaning that it can continue to reduce the amount of resources used, emissions produced, and waste generated.
Is recycled acrylic the same thickness as virgin acrylic?
Yes — recycled sheets are produced in wide variety of thicknesses which allows us to maintain each of our product manufacturing specifications.
How is Displays2go reducing its carbon footprint through recycled acrylic?
Recycled acrylic is a sustainable closed-loop solution. Not only are we using recycled acrylic to create products, but we recycle any leftover scraps to make new sheets. These efforts reduce the waste we are adding to landfills and lowers our carbon footprint.
How does recycled acrylic produce less CO2 vs. virgin acrylic?
Most of the initial pollution comes from the production of the raw materials. The largest contributor to CO2 emissions in the acrylic manufacturing process is in the harvesting of crude oil as well as the process of turning that oil into useable acrylic beads. When using recycled acrylic, we are bypassing those steps entirely and only using energy to clean and re-melt the plastic. Also, if plastics aren’t recycled they go to landfills, or even worse are incinerated which produces even more CO2.
Why are only some of your acrylic products offered in recycled acrylic?
Due to our close partnership with a local supplier, there are currently limitations on the available supply of recycled acrylic. However, we plan to continue growing our recycled acrylic assortment over the next several years. We have started with our top performing products and are progressively expanding our selection.
Can I recycle the acrylic products that I purchase as a consumer?
Acrylic is categorized as a group 7 plastic that requires specialized equipment and handling, often available only at industrial scale. At the consumer level, acrylic is generally not collected by curbside recycling pickup. We'd advise you consult your community's policies or research local specialized recycling companies.