Is Acrylic fabric biodegradable? (5 applications of acrylic fabric) 

In this article, the biodegradability of acrylic fabric will be discussed. Other covered topics would be: 

  • What is acrylic fabric?
  • What are the applications of acrylic fabric?
  • How is acrylic fabric made?
  • Why is the biodegradability of acrylic fabric important?
  • Is acrylic fabric biodegradable?
  • FAQs

Is Acrylic fabric biodegradable?

Acrylic polymer is made from fossil-fuel-based products and therefore, it can be assumed that acrylic fabric is not biodegradable.

Other than being non-biodegradable, acrylic fabric may also cause GHGs emissions, exposure to harmful chemicals, and release of ground-level ozone. All these impacts are detrimental to life and the environment. 

What is acrylic fabric?

A complete introduction to acrylic fibre is essential to understanding whether acrylic fibre is biodegradable or not. 

This is because biodegradability has become an important concept and reality. The check of whether a substance of a product is biodegradable or not is really important in determining how impactful and green consumer products are.

The current waste generation is supposed to be at 2 billion tons. It may also rise to more than 3 billion tons as early as 2050. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that the consumer products that are bought and used are degradable so that the strain caused by the waste generation is limited in the best possible ways. 

When it comes to the scenario of fabrics, the situation is no different. Everyone needs fabrics to cover his body. The issue today is not just about covering, but there are many extra aspects anchored to the whole idea of fabrics. These may include looking good, innovative, and fabrics for special needs like sportswear and athletic wear. 

Acrylic fabric is produced from a synthetic polymer called acrylonitrile. As it is made from synthetic polymers, it may be guessed that there will be environmental impacts of acrylic fabric. 

This is because the production and use of synthetic polymers happen at the cost of our environment. The production of synthetic polymers is done by using fossil-fuel products while the energy needed to make polymers is also mostly non-renewable. 

This means that the production and use of synthetic polymers lead to the release of greenhouse gases in the environment. These gases may include carbon dioxide or methane. 

GHG emissions lead to many other environmental complications such as global warming or increased sea levels or unprecedented weather patterns. If you noticed that there was an unusual amount of rainfall or heat strokes in your region, the culprit most probably is global warming. 

This is because there is a profound level of interconnection found in our earth and thus, disruption of one system will be reciprocated and translated in many other aspects as well. 

If we come back to our primary topic which is acrylic fabric, it can be detailed that the use of acrylic fabric commenced somewhere around in the 1950s and was mostly used for sportswear, athletic wear, hoodies et cetera. This was owing to the high heat retention profiles exhibited by acrylic fabrics. 

Usually, acrylic fabric may be used in combination with other fabrics as well to achieve utilitarian values. However, it is mandatory that the percentage of acrylic fabric must not be less than 80%.  

What are the applications of acrylic fabric? (5 applications)

As per the applications of acrylic fabric are concerned, there are various sectors that make use of acrylic fabric. These may include: 

  • Apparel 
  • Homeware products 
  • Industrial application
  • Props and costumes 
  • Knitting material

Owing to the fervent temperature retention profile, the acrylic fabric is mostly used for athletic and sportswear. The appearance and characteristics of acrylic fabric are similar to that of wool and therefore. It is used for the same materials that wool is used for. 

Examples may include sweaters, gloves, pants, hoodies et cetera. Acrylic fabric may be produced in combination with other fabrics as well to achieve the desired functional capacities. 

Acrylic fabric may also be used in the production of carbon fibre. It has become a staple in the designing part of the automobile industry. 

One of the most stood-out applications of acrylic fabric is being used in the knitting process where many consumers prefer acrylic fabric over wool. For this reason, it is also regarded as a learner fabric. 

How is acrylic fabric made?

Like any other fabric, acrylic fabric is also made by following a set of rules and procedures. Before we delve into the main production process, it is incumbent to go over a few points first. This will help us in building a strong stance regarding the biodegradability and eco-friendliness of acrylic fabric. 

Firstly, acrylic fabric is made by the reaction of monomers with petroleum or coal-based chemicals. Therefore, it can be concluded that acrylic is a fossil-fuel-based fabric. 

What this translates into is that acrylic fabric is made at the expense of fossil fuels and this means that acrylic fabric production is associated with the emissions of GHGs. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide, and ethylene are responsible for the phenomenon of global warming. 

Therefore, it can be peripherally assumed that acrylic fabric is not that ‘green’ from the production point of view since it is a fossil-fuel-based polymer. 

The various steps that are adopted for the making of the acrylic polymer include: 

  • Polymerisation
  • Dissolving 
  • Extrusion 
  • Spinning 
  • Washing 
  • Loading 
  • Weaving 

The production process of acrylic fabric commences from a process which is termed free-radical polymerisation. Free radical polymerisation is a process in which polyacrylonitrile is made in a water-based solution.

The end result of free radical polymerisation is then extruded so that the acrylic fabric can be obtained from the gel-like parent material. 

The obtained acrylic polymer fabric may then be exposed to either wet or dry spinning. Both approaches are helpful but dry spinning is considered environmentally safer because it avoids the use of water. 

Once the spinning process is done, the acrylic fabric is ready to be shipped to producers after the washing and stretching formalities. This is done so that acrylic fabric can be spun into yarn.

One of the last processes involved in acrylic fabric production is the weaving part through which manufacturers and producers may weave the acrylic polymer into different forms of apparel like athletic gear et cetera. 

Why is the biodegradability of Acrylic fabric important?

Biodegradability can be explained as a process in which microbes are involved in the breakdown of waste into simpler substances. 

This is done to ensure that there is no waste generation and accumulation. Biodegradability is nature’s own way to make sure that waste does not cause any sort of pollution or exploitation. 

If there is no biodegradability, there will be negative impacts on waste. However, it is seen that nature’s biodegradability does have some limitations after all. 

The microbes are not able to degrade the waste that is synthesised in the lab. This waste is regarded as non-biodegradable waste. 

Non-biodegradable material is known to cause a lot of negative impacts on the environment and human health. Therefore, it is important that acrylic fabric be biodegradable so that it does not persist in the environment for a very long time. 

If a product or waste is non-biodegradable, it may last for hundreds of years and cause global warming, pollution, and waste management obstructions. 

Is acrylic fabric biodegradable?

Based on the literature discussed until now, it can be concluded that for a substance to be biodegradable, it must be made from natural materials instead of non-natural materials. 

This is because the microbes have no difficulty in degrading the structure of natural material which is not the case for non-natural materials. 

We have also seen that acrylic polymer is made from fossil-fuel-based products and therefore, it can be assumed that acrylic fabric is not biodegradable. 

This means that microbes would not be able to degrade the structure of the acrylic fabric and that it will remain in the environment for a very long time. 

The problem is not just about the biodegradation of acrylic polymers but the problem is also about the environmental impact given off by the acrylic fabric. 

These effects can be summarised in the following points:

  • Acrylic fabric production releases GHGs in the environment causing global warming 
  • The production of an acrylic fabric involves the use of various harmful chemicals and therefore, the workers are exposed to the risk of it 
  • The recycling of acrylic fabric is also not possible as it may be the case with other synthetic fabrics
  • Acrylic fabric is also associated with the production of ground-level ozone which may be toxic and poisonous for plants and crops 
  • Acrylic fabric use is also linked with medical complications such as cancer, discomfort, and skin allergies 

Conclusion

It is, therefore, concluded that acrylic polymer is made from fossil-fuel-based products and therefore, it can be assumed that acrylic fabric is not biodegradable.

Other than being non-biodegradable, acrylic fabric may also cause GHGs emissions, exposure to harmful chemicals, and release of ground-level ozone. All these impacts are detrimental to life and the environment. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is Acrylic Fabric biodegradable?

Is Acrylic fabric natural?

No, the acrylic fabric is non-natural because it is synthesised in the lab through the polymerisation process.5 

References 

  • Bulkeley, H., & Askins, K. (2009). Waste interfaces: biodegradable waste, municipal policy and everyday practice. Geographical Journal, 175(4), 251-260.
  • De Falco, F., Gullo, M. P., Gentile, G., Di Pace, E., Cocca, M., Gelabert, L., … & Avella, M. (2018). Evaluation of microplastic release caused by textile washing processes of synthetic fabrics. Environmental Pollution, 236, 916-925.
  • Cooke, T. F., & Roth, P. B. (1956). Finishing of Synthetic Fabrics. Textile Research Journal, 26(3), 229-242.
  • Yacout, D. M., El-Kawi, A., & Hassouna, M. S. (2016). Cradle to gate environmental impact assessment of acrylic fibre manufacturing. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 21(3), 326-336.

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