A Plymouth company's new 100% recycled hard plastic products are boosting sales while helping retail and bank customers meet their sustainability goals.
Acrylic Design in Plymouth makes Recrylic, and says it's the first of its kind to meet Global Recycled Standard and Recycled Content Certification criteria that a growing number of companies use to compute and track fossil-fuel consumption and carbon footprints.
Recrylic is used to make retail displays and dividers, lighting systems and other architectural elements such as the partitions put up during the pandemic at cash registers.
"That's what customers increasingly want," Acrylic Design CEO Bill McNeely Jr. said at his two-building, 250,000-square-foot design-to-manufacture complex that employs 120. "And Recrylic is every bit as good as virgin acrylic. It looks, bonds and prints just as well."
The hard-plastic product, commonly called plexiglass, is lighter and doesn't break like glass. But it has mostly been a use-and-dispose product until recently.
Customers such as Life Time fitness, Sleep Number, Lunds & Byerlys and Estee Lauder want clear and brightly colored plastics for their space dividers, retail displays and signage, McNeely said.
McNeely introduced Recrylic to several customers last year and expects the product to grow to 10% of total sales this year. This year, he expects revenue near $40 million and predicts a 25% increase in 2023 driven largely by Recrylic.
"Because Recrylic is 100 percent recycled, it provides a closed-loop lifecycle for our customers," said McNeely. "Recrylic is another way we can help them achieve [sustainability] goals."
McNeely said requests for a greener acrylic-based plastic started several years ago. Customers thought options offered by a few manufacturers in India and China had a cloudy look.
Acrylic Design has worked with a longtime Mexican supplier for several years to develop a recycled product. The stepped up demand for barriers during the pandemic, plus supply-chain issues, drove the team to redouble efforts.
The price to Acrylic Design customers for Recrylic products is about that of virgin acrylic. And they save on landfill or other disposal expense.
"Acrylic is used in everything from single brochure holders to large-scale displays, light fixtures, signage and more," Aaron Sorenson, a senior manager at Lunds & Byerlys, said in a statement. "So, having a recycled version available is a great way to continue to showcase our products while also reducing our carbon footprint."
Life Time's inaugural order was 600 112-pound Recrylic privacy panels. Acrylic Design calculated the order saved 212 tons of carbon-dioxide emissions, based on the same order using oil-based plastic, which would consume 448 barrels of oil.
Amber McMillan, Life Time's executive in charge of fitness and weight loss, said the carbon savings meets the company's sustainability requirements.
COVID-19 caused employers to purchase more plexiglass products to protect workers in offices, stores and vehicles such as buses. Environmentalists at the time raised concerns that few of the products were recycled.
"Over the last few months, plexiglass has become the most readily deployed solution in adhering to the new safety requirements," said a 2020 article in "Renewable Matter," an international publication. "It is important to question the sustainability of this material that seems to have become so indispensable.''
One big U.S. manufacturer, Plaskolite, which operates in North America and Europe, saw a surge in its business. Big retailers, such as Walmart and Target, wanted all the "face shields" they could get.
"The supply was just not there, so there was a major, major rush to manufacture the product," Plaskolite Chairman Mitch Grindley told Forbes in 2020. "We took two of our plants, adjusted our lines and started cranking them out as fast as we could."
Similarly, Acrylic Design, which takes plexiglass sheets and designs and fabricates custom products for its customers, went from two to three shifts at its Plymouth complex.
Plaskolite has now begun to market recycling services.
Acrylic Design, founded in 1976 by McNeely's late father, is one of the larger U.S. designer-fabricators, producing 600 tons of acrylic products annually, including Recrylic.
"This is exciting and will breathe new opportunities into our business," McNeely said. "It's the greatest door opener a company could want. And we're the only one that has this [certified] product.''
And it will spearhead a more-sustainable, lower-carbon plexiglass industry.