Is acrylic wool biodegradable? (7 steps of acrylic wool making) 

In this article, the biodegradability of acrylic wool will be discussed. Other covered aspects covered will be: 

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

Is acrylic wool biodegradable? 

No, acrylic wool is not biodegradable because it is made from a synthetic polymer called acrylonitrile. It may remain in the environment for hundreds of years. 

Other than being non-biodegradable,  acrylic wool 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 wool?

Acrylic wool is acrylic fibre in its purest form. It is termed wool because of the absolute and pure nature of the acrylic fibre. Another reason why acrylic fibre is termed acrylic wool is that it resembles wool morphologically. 

Other than that, there is no great discrepancy between acrylic fabric fibre and acrylic wool. The two terms are often used interchangeably and there is no harm in that. 

Acrylic fabric is produced from a synthetic polymer called acrylonitrile. As it is made from synthetic polymers, there are 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. 

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. 

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 wool, it can be detailed that the use of acrylic fabric commenced somewhere around 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, the 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%.  

How is acrylic wool made? (7 steps of acrylic wool production) 

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 wool 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 wool 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 wool 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. 

What are the applications of acrylic wool? 

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

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

Owing to the great temperature retention profile, acrylic wool is mostly used for athletic and sportswear. The appearance and characteristics of acrylic wool 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 wool may be produced in combination with other fabrics as well to achieve the desired functional capacities. 

Acrylic wool 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. 

What is biodegradability?

In order to make a stance on the biodegradability of acrylic wool, it is also important to know what biodegradability is. Biodegradability is the breakdown of waste by the action of microbes. 

These microbes can be bacteria, fungi, decomposers, algae, and even protozoa. These microbes ensure that the waste generated does not accumulate and gets back to the system of life. 

That is because if there is waste accumulation, there will be negative effects of that waste accumulation which will impact all areas of our life. 

Therefore, biodegradability can also be regarded as nature’s dustbin. What is the role of a dustbin? To keep the waste segregated from the environment and make sure it does not pollute the environment. 

The role of biodegradability is very similar. Other than microbes, there are also external factors which play an important role in the biodegradation process. These may include aeration, sunlight, temperature and pressure. 

The time taken for a product or substance to biodegrade depends on the type of material and the external conditions. 

Based on biodegradability, there is a classification of waste. Waste may either be biodegradable or non-biodegradable. 

This is because not all waste can be degraded by the action of microbes. Most of the waste that is from synthetic materials produced at the expense of chemicals and human innovation is not biodegradable. 

It may take hundreds of years for such waste to degrade and therefore, it is termed non-biodegradable waste. Examples of non-biodegradable waste may include:

  • Epoxy resin
  • PET
  • LDPE
  • Nylon
  • Dyneema
  • Acrylic fabric
  • Synthetic resins

These materials may take from a few hundred years to a thousand years to degrade. While they persist, they cause a plethora of problems to the environment and life. Examples of biodegradable waste may include plant waste, animal waste, manure et cetera. 

The impact of biodegradable waste on the environment is very less compared to non-biodegradable waste.

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. 

Therefore, acrylic wool’s biodegradability is important because it will ensure a lesser impact on the environment and a reduced strain on the waste management systems. 

Is acrylic wool 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 wool. 

These effects can be summarised in the following points:

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

Conclusion

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

Other than being non-biodegradable, acrylic wool 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 wool biodegradable?

Why is acrylic wool named so?

Acrylic wool is named so because of its purity which makes it resemble wool.

Is Acrylic wool natural or non-natural?

Acrylic wool is made from polymer acrylonitrile which is non-natural. Therefore, acrylic wool is regarded as a synthetic fibre. 

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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