Is acrylic polymer biodegradable? (7 uses of acrylic polymers)

In this article, the biodegradability of acrylic polymers will be questioned. A number of other topics will also be covered related to the main question. These will be: 

  • What is an acrylic polymer?
  • What are the properties and uses of acrylic polymer?
  • What are polymers?
  • What are the environmental impacts of polymers?
  • What is biodegradability?
  • Why is biodegradability important?
  • Is acrylic polymer biodegradable?
  • FAQs

Is acrylic polymer biodegradable?

Acrylic polymer is non-biodegradable because it is derived from natural gas and is synthesised from petroleum products in labs. It may take more than 200 years to degrade. 

Biodegradability is the process of breakdown down complex waste into simple waste by the action of microbes so that the simple waste may become part of nature again. 

Non-biodegradable products cause a lot of harm to the planet and people including global warming, deforestation, and numerous health complications. 

What is acrylic polymer?

Acrylic polymer is a natural-gas-driven plastic product which is also referred to as thermoplastic. Another name for the acrylic polymer is polyacrylate. 

Acrylic polymer is derived from fossil-based products. Regarding fossil-based products, there is a general understanding that such products deliver good qualities and utilitarian values. However, these values come at the cost of our environment. 

Materials that are derived from petroleum are often known to cause environmental and human-related degradation and exploitation.

The most preferred issue that is caused by the production and use of fossil fuels and related products is the issue of global warming. 

The production and use of products such as acrylic polymer involve the emission of greenhouse gases. These gases are known to increase the Earth’s temperature causing global warming. 

Incidentally and unfortunately, the case of acrylic polymer is the same. It is also associated with a multitude of problems and issues that will be deliberated in the future sections of the article. 

You may wonder what a polymer is. A polymer is a substance made from small repeating units called monomers. These monomers are linked together by chemical bonds. The best example of polymers can be various commercial plastics like HDPE, or PET. 

Acrylic polymer is another example of plastic, which is temperature stable plastic and therefore also referred to as thermoplastic. 

What are the properties and applications of acrylic polymer? (7 uses of acrylic polymers) 

Acrylic polymer may have the following properties:

  • Clarity
  • Weathering properties
  • Durability
  • Mechanical strength
  • Dimensional stability
  • Ease of processing
  • Transparency

Owing to these qualities, acrylic polymer may be used for a wide range of applications. These might include:

  • Brochures
  • LED panels
  • POP displays
  • Skylights
  • Architectural glazing 
  • Display cases
  • Light panels

What are polymers?

The word polymer is supposed to be derived from the Greek language which means many parts. Polymers are made up of small repeating units. These small repeating units are termed monomers. Monomers are held together by chemical bonds.

Polymers can be classified into two groups. These may be:

  • Natural polymers 
  • Synthetic polymers

As the names suggest, natural polymers are found in nature. There is no need to synthesise them in any way. Whereas, synthetic polymers, on the other hand, are synthesised in the lab.

Natural polymers are those polymers found in nature. It can be said that nature is the scientist that made these polymers and quite a magnificent one. Examples of these polymers can be: 

  • Wool
  • Carbohydrates
  • DNA
  • Protein
  • Cellulose
  • Silk
  • Chiton

These natural polymers adhere to nature’s ways and thus pose no great threats to nature and the environment. However, there are some factors that may change this bias. 

As per synthetic polymers, these polymers are synthesised in the lab. These synthetic polymers are created by man and the rule of thumb is that most of them do not really adhere to nature’s ways. Examples of these polymers may be: 

  • Teflon
  • Dyneema
  • Nylon
  • PVC
  • Polyethylene
  • Polyester
  • Epoxy

What are the environmental impacts of polymers?

It has been stated that most polymers are made from fossil fuels. These polymers deliver excellent uses and utilitarian qualities. However, these qualities come at the cost of our environment. 

Polymers are associated with a number of harmful impacts on our health and also our environment. This is largely because polymers are involved in the release of greenhouse gases that result in the global rise in temperature. 

This phenomenon is referred to as global warming. As there is an amazing level of interconnectedness in the world, the global rise in temperatures, then, in turn, leads to a number of other environmental anomalies as well. 

These effects can be: 

  • Pollution
  • Global warming
  • GHG emissions
  • Rise in temperature
  • A rise in sea levels
  • Melting glaciers
  • More floods
  • Frequent droughts
  • Unprecedented weather patterns
  • Insects attacks
  • Land degradation
  • Food shortage
  • Food security concerns
  • Species endangerment 
  • Infiltration into the food chains
  • Loss of aquatic life
  • Accumulation of plastics
  • Disruptions of ecosystems

However, it may also be asserted that the effects of polymers are not just limited to the environment, they are also impactful on health as well. Below are the common health issues that arise from non-biodegradable polymers:

  • Abnormality
  • Reproductive complications
  • Hormonal issues
  • Damage to foetus
  • Necrosis
  • Skin damage
  • Eye allergies
  • Organ defects
  • Cancer
  • Mutation
  • Psychological complication
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Neuro-toxicity
  • Neurological complications 

What is biodegradability?

Biodegradability is a process through which complex materials are broken down into simple materials by the action of microbes. These microbes can be bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa, and even yeast. 

The process of biodegradability can be called a natural dustbin because it is nature’s way to ensure that there is no waste accumulation in the environment. It is coded in the profile of nature that waste has harmful impacts on the environment. 

The harmful impacts of waste are not just restricted to the environment but also the life that resides within it. If there is no biodegradation, there will be waste and deterioration of life and our atmosphere, in short, a global catastrophe. 

Regarding biodegradability, it is generally thought that there are two types of waste. These are biodegradable and non-biodegradable. 

As the name suggests, biodegradable waste can be broken down by the action of microbes. This waste can be plant-based or animal-based wastes. Other examples of this waste will include: 

  • Food waste
  • Animal waste
  • Human waste
  • Paper waste
  • Manure
  • Sewage
  • Hospital waste
  • Dead plants
  • Biopolymers 

On the other hand, non-biodegradable waste is a type of waste which can not be degraded by the action of microbes. Such a type of waste is usually not found in nature. This means that non-biodegradable waste is mostly made or synthesised in the lab. Examples of non-biodegradable waste may be: 

  • Electronic waste
  • Plastics 
  • Polyvinyl Chloride
  • Nuclear waste
  • Hazardous waste
  • Chemical waste
  • Hospital waste 
  • Synthetic resins
  • Synthetic fibres
  • Dyneema 
  • PHA 
  • EVA 

Why is biodegradability important?

After a detailed introduction to what biodegradability is, you may wonder why biodegradability is an urgent matter. It is believed that the statistical assertions are fervent enough to answer this curiosity. 

The world’s population stands at around 7.8 billion and is expected to cross the threshold of 11 billion in the years to come. As far as waste production is concerned, it is estimated that an average person makes more than 4-5 kgs of waste per day. 

If you do the maths, the results are beyond staggering. The global waste production stands at a whopping 2 billion tons which may reach up to 3 billion tons in the coming time. More than 40% of the produced waste is not discarded properly and is disposed of in open dumps. 

To further exacerbate the situation, if more non-biodegradable waste is generated as compared to biodegradable waste, then this simply implies our doomsday.

There will be no space left to keep and treat the waste products and this will affect every life that is out there in the world, not to mention the effects on our future. 

This approach is bluntly opposite to what the principles of sustainability are. Sustainability preaches to be useful in the present in a way that the future generations’ needs are not sacrificed. 

That is why biodegradability is an urgent matter. We need to shift toward biodegradable waste both as a consumer and as a human because otherwise, there is no way out. 

Further, given the current context of science and technology, it is easily possible to shift to biodegradable waste. As the environmental concern rises, more and more people and producers are shifting towards sustainability and eco-friendliness. 

As a result, biodegradability and sustainability have become easy options to opt for without going the extra mile. Popular examples can be bio-based plastics, bio-polymers, natural fertilisers, renewable sources of energy et cetera. 

Is acrylic polymer biodegradable?

For a substance to be biodegradable, it must be made from natural materials. These natural materials can be plant-based or animal-based products. Examples of biodegradable material may be natural fabrics, fruits, vegetables et cetera.

Acrylic polymer is derived from natural gas and is synthesised from petroleum products in labs. Therefore, acrylic plastic can not be regarded as biodegradable.

It may remain in the environment for hundreds of years and may also cause harm to people and the environment. It is researched that it may take more than 200 years to degrade. 

Conclusion 

Acrylic plastic is non-biodegradable because it is derived from natural gas and is synthesised from petroleum products in labs. It may take more than 200 years to degrade. 

Biodegradability is the process of breakdown of complex waste into simple waste by the action of microbes so that the simple waste may become part of nature again. 

Non-biodegradable products cause a lot of harm to the planet and people including global warming, deforestation, and numerous health complications. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is Acrylic polymer biodegradable?

Are there biodegradable polymers as well?

Yes, bioplastics made from sugarcane and corn starch are examples of biodegradable polymers. 

Why is acrylic polymer regarded as thermoplastic?

That is because when heat is applied, it softens and when it cools it can attain the given shape with an increased level of durability. 

References

  • Hirose, M., Zhou, J., & Nagai, K. (2000). The structure and properties of acrylic-polyurethane hybrid emulsions. Progress in Organic Coatings, 38(1), 27-34.
  • Burkhardt, W. C. (1976). Acrylic plastic glazing: properties, characteristics, and engineering data. ASHRAE Trans.;(United States), 82.
  • Erni-Cassola, G., Zadjelovic, V., Gibson, M. I., & Christie-Oleza, J. A. (2019). Distribution of plastic polymer types in the marine environment; A meta-analysis. Journal of hazardous materials, 369, 691-698.
  • Thompson, R. C., Swan, S. H., Moore, C. J., & Vom Saal, F. S. (2009). Our plastic age. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), 1973-1976.
  • Thompson, R. C., Olsen, Y., Mitchell, R. P., Davis, A., Rowland, S. J., John, A. W., … & Russell, A. E. (2004). Lost at sea: where is all the plastic? Science, 304(5672), 838-838.

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