New 100% recycled hard plastic sheets from a Plymouth company are helping to boost sales while helping retail and banking customers meet their sustainability goals.
Acrylic Design in Plymouth manufactures Recrylic and claims it is the first of its kind to meet the criteria for the Global Recycled Standard and Recycled Content Certification that a growing number of companies use to calculate and track fossil fuel consumption and carbon footprints.
Recrylic is being used to make retail displays and dividers, lighting systems, and other architectural elements such as partitions installed during the pandemic at cash registers.
“It’s what customers want more and more,” Acrylic Design CEO Bill McNeely Jr. said at his 250,000 square foot design-to-build complex that employs 120 people. “And Recrylic is just as good as virgin acrylic. It looks, ties and prints just as well.”
The hard plastic product, commonly known as plexiglass, is lighter and does not shatter like glass. But until recently, it was primarily a use-and-dispose product.
Customers such as Life Time fitness, Sleep Number, Lunds & Byerlys and Estee Lauder want clear and brightly colored plastics for their room dividers, retail displays and signage, McNeely said.
McNeely introduced Recrylic to several customers last year and expects the product to reach 10% of total sales this year. This year, it expects revenue close to $40 million and predicts a 25% increase in 2023, driven largely by Recrylic.
“Because Recrylic is 100% recycled, it provides a closed-loop lifecycle for our customers,” McNeely said. “Recrylic is another way to help them achieve [sustainability] Goals.”
McNeely said calls for a more environmentally friendly acrylic-based plastic started several years ago. Customers thought that the options offered by a few manufacturers in India and China looked cloudy.
Acrylic Design has been working with a long-time Mexican supplier for several years to develop a recycled product. The increased demand for barriers during the pandemic, along with supply chain issues, prompted the team to redouble their efforts.
Pricing to Acrylic Design customers for Recrylic products is approximately that of virgin acrylic. And they save on landfills or other disposal expenses.
“Acrylic is used in everything from simple brochure holders to large-scale displays, lighting fixtures, signage and more,” Aaron Sorenson, senior executive at Lunds & Byerlys, said in a statement. “So having a recycled version is a great way to continue to showcase our products while reducing our carbon footprint.”
Life Time’s inaugural order was for 600 Recrylic 112-pound privacy panels. Acrylic Design calculated that the order saved 212 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, based on the same order using petroleum-based plastic, which would consume 448 barrels of oil.
Amber McMillan, head of fitness and weight loss at Life Time, said the carbon savings meet the company’s sustainability requirements.
COVID-19 has prompted employers to purchase more plexiglass products to protect workers in offices, stores and vehicles such as buses. Environmentalists at the time feared that few products would be recycled.
“Over the past few months, plexiglass has become the most easily deployed solution to meet new safety requirements,” said a 2020 article in Renewable Matter, an international publication. “It is important to question the durability of this material which seems to have become so essential.”
A large US manufacturer, Plaskolite, which operates in North America and Europe, has seen its business increase. Major retailers, such as Walmart and Target, wanted all the “face shields” they could get.
“The supply just wasn’t there, so there was a major rush to make the product,” Plaskolite president Mitch Grindley told Forbes in 2020. “We took two of our factories, adjusted our lines and started throwing them as fast as we could.”
Similarly, Acrylic Design, which takes sheets of plexiglass and designs and manufactures custom products for its clients, has grown from two to three shifts at its Plymouth complex.
Plaskolite has now started marketing recycling services.
Acrylic Design, founded in 1976 by McNeely’s late father, is one of America’s largest designer-manufacturers, producing 600 tons of acrylic products annually, including Recrylic.
“It’s exciting and it will bring new opportunities to our business,” McNeely said. “It’s the best door opener a business could wish for. And we’re the only ones that have it [certified] product.”
And it will spearhead a more sustainable, low-carbon plexiglass industry.