Early Adopters Use Recycled Acrylic to Achieve Sustainability Goals
Two top Twin Cities-based companies, Life Time and Lunds & Byerlys, are working to reduce their carbon footprints and landfill use by being early adopters of Recrylic™ – the first recycled acrylic to be widely available in North America.
Acrylic is a commonly used plastic material – seen in everything from luxury retail displays to artwork to architectural elements and more. For designers, architects and engineers, acrylic is a popular alternative to glass and other materials, due to its durability, versatile characteristics and affordable cost.
Like any material, though, acrylic can come with an environmental price tag. Traditionally, acrylic is made from petroleum– and, until recently, a more environmentally friendly option wasn’t available. That’s where another local company decided to step in.
“Recycled materials are a growing choice for many organizations, but, unfortunately, recycled acrylic was not really a viable option,” said Acrylic Design Associates CEO Bill McNeely, Jr. “Recrylic is the first recycled acrylic to be widely available in North America and the first to be certified by leading environmental auditing organizations.”
Based in Minneapolis, Acrylic Design Associates specializes in designing and manufacturing custom fixtures, displays and other branding elements – whether made of plastic, metal, wood or other materials. McNeely, whose father founded the company in 1976, said his clients have been asking for recycled acrylic options for years as a way to meet environmental, social and governance (ESG) commitments, but they weren’t something that raw material manufacturers were providing.
“That changed with the pandemic,” said McNeely. “One of our suppliers was experimenting with a way to produce recycled acrylic but wasn’t there yet. When the pandemic hit, he was no longer able to get a reliable supply of the raw materials needed to make traditional acrylic, which motivated him to create acrylic entirely from recycled materials. Today, he is recycling more than 20 tons of scrap acrylic every month.”
Unlike other recycled materials, Recrylic looks, performs and costs the same as its traditional virgin counterpart. And its flawless aesthetics were important for Amber McMillan, Life Time’s Senior Vice President, Fitness and Weight Loss.
“We wanted to create a space for our signature group training classes that provided a boutique experience and not only could Recrylic support us in that but could do so with a product that meets our sustainable requirements,” said McMillan. “When it comes to materials we use in our locations, we are committed to sourcing options that have a positive impact on the environment.”
Life Time selected Recrylic for large-scale semi-privacy screen panels for its destinations, nationwide. The panels both help to provide diffused separation in workout spaces while also providing a branded environment.
Based on the weight and number of panels, Acrylic Design Associates calculates that using Recrylic instead of non-recycled acrylic helped to save 448 barrels of oil from being used. That’s the equivalent of preventing 212 tons of CO2 from being released . . . about the same as keeping 46 cars off the road for a full year. And that’s just from one initial test project. McMillan says that Life Time plans to expand use of Recrylic and other recycled products at its locations, over time.
Lunds & Byerlys is likewise on board with the Recrylic introduction. As a first step, Lunds & Byerlys will be exploring multiple uses for Recrylic recycled acrylic, including signage, displays, wall treatments, light fixtures and more in a store remodel and affiliated apartment complex at its Penn Avenue location and in new stores opening in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood this fall and in Apple Valley in 2023.
“We are excited about the opportunity to replace traditional acrylic with a recycled option,” said Aaron Sorenson, Senior Communications Manager at Lunds & Byerlys. “Acrylic is used in everything from single brochure holders to large-scale displays, light fixtures, signage and more – so having a recycled version available is a great way to continue to showcase our products while also reducing our carbon footprint.
As Recrylic production ramps up, other companies – both local and global – are starting to ask for it as part of their projects. Best Buy, Target, Kohl’s and other businesses are also in the early stages of deploying Recrylic in place of non-recycled acrylic.
Another way that these companies can achieve sustainability goals is by recycling their used materials. McNeely says that a recent customer survey found that approximately two-thirds of respondents were recycling used acrylic less than half of the time. Recrylic can help acrylic users by collecting, sorting and recycling used materials into their appropriate disposal streams.
“Because Recrylic is 100% recycled and 100% recyclable, it provides a closed-loop lifecycle for our customers,” said McNeely. “If a company doesn’t have a way of collecting used acrylic for recycling today, we can help with that.”
Another way that Acrylic Design Associates works to confirm Recrylic’s environmental impact is by achieving certification under the Global Recycled Standard and Recycled Content Certification standards. Both programs evaluate products made from pre- and post-consumer material diverted from waste streams – and both set rigorous requirements for recycled content, chain of custody, social and environmental practices and chemical additives.
“At the end of the day, Recrylic is one more way we can help our clients meet their challenges and achieve their goals,” said McNeely. “Knowing that we are helping to preserve natural resources while doing that is very rewarding.”