Written by Kate Curry
What is Acrylic Yarn?
Every single crafter has worked with acrylic yarn. It is the most widely available and cheap yarn that many beginner crafters use when they’re starting their fiber art journey. This yarn is also easy to wash and is ultra-durable. What’s not to love about it?
Turns out, there’s a lot not to love!
Acrylic fiber is created with oil and fossil fuels, just like plastic. Yes, acrylic yarn is totally synthetic! How it is made, is essentially, a giant vat of oil and chemicals that is spun until it solidifies into long chains of plastic fibers. That’s what acrylic yarn is!
How To Tell If My Yarn Is Acrylic?
Check that label before you purchase! All yarn comes with a tag that will tell you the yardage and fiber materials of the yarn. Some yarn will be 100% acrylic, and some brands will claim to be ‘recyclable’ or ‘eco-friendly’ yarns, but a percentage of the yarn will be acrylic.
If you are buying yarn online, there should be the materials listed in the product description!
If there is no description, beware! It’s most likely acrylic.
Impact of Acrylic Yarn on Our Earth & Oceans
There are a plethora of reasons as to why acrylic yarn is bad for the environment, but I’m going to only focus on a few!
Energy & Toxins
To create acrylic yarn, fossil fuels and chemicals are used to create the plastic “fibers”. The CFDA claims, in a 2017 report, that 342 million barrels of oil are used to create acrylic/plastic fibers each year (source)! The creation of these fibers emits toxic fumes and creates a cocktail of toxic chemicals (such as polyacrylonitrile, vinyl acetate, and methyl acrylate) that are carcinogens or are dangerous to soil, water systems, animals, and humans.
The process of creating acrylic yarn also takes a large amount of energy. Also, during creation, almost 14.2 kg of CO 2 per kilogram of greenhouse gasses are emitted (source). Many acrylic yarn factories are required by law to monitor their emissions to ensure that there are no leaks that could cause environmental damage. Sadly, many factories are not well managed and it’s the local environment that suffers the most from their dereliction!
When it comes to owning acrylic pieces, they are durable and can be machine washed, but many types of acrylic fibers are hydrophobic. This means that the fiber will repel water, which may be a good thing during the rainy seasons, but it means when you are washing your acrylic pieces, you’re going to need to use a lot more water and energy to wash them! Not only that, but everytime you wash your acrylic piece, microplastics are created and put into the water supply.
If you’re an ocean-lover like myself, you’ve heard of microplastics. Microplastics are tiny little bits and beads of plastic that are harmful to the ocean and ocean animals. These itty bitty plastics come from cigarette filters, plastic/acrylic fibers, cleaning products, broken down plastic products, and even hygiene products!
Acrylic fiber creates microplastic every time you wash your acrylic creations. With thousands of microplastics being introduced into the water system each time the fiber is washed, it’s no wonder that 35% of the ocean’s microplastics come from synthetic acrylic fibers. Also, 85% of debris on shorelines around the world are made of microplastic (source).
These microplastics do so much more than pollute our oceans. Sea animals can eat, breath in, or get stuck in microplastics, causing their death! When fish and crustaceans eat these little bits of plastics, it can make them sick or even toxic. And who eats fish? Larger marine animals, birds, and humans! The food chain of our planet is reliant on a healthy ocean.
According to seaturtles.org, plastics can take 450-1,000 years to biodegrade and the same goes for acrylic/plastic yarn. Many synthetic plastics are not biodegradable or recyclable at all. The yarn you bought 10 years ago will not only be around for your grandchildren, but for your great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren!
If the yarn is made of an acrylic that does biodegrade, the breakdown of the fibers releases the toxic chemicals and microplastics that were used in its creation. It’s not really biodegradable or eco-friendly if it can negatively impact the environment when it’s broken down!
Should I Stop Using Acrylic Yarn?
Personally, I would say yes.
When I found out just how bad acrylic yarn was, I was quick to check my stash and I was astonished. Almost all the yarn that I owned was acrylic or an acrylic blend. I was going to throw it out - but that wouldn’t help the environment at all. I recycled the skeins that could be recycled, returned what I still had receipts for, and donated the rest to my local eco-yarn society who knew how to safely use and dispose of acrylic fibers.
It’s up to each individual and their conscious choices for the planet, but I have a few more stats that might help you make your decision!
- Acrylic yarn is incredibly flammable!
- Acrylic yarn will melt if it gets too hot.
- The chemicals used to make acrylic yarn can cause irritation to sensitive skin
- Some creators refuse to create acrylic pieces for babies due to their sensitive skin
Sure, acrylic yarn is cheap, durable, and easily accessible, but the cons outweigh the pros.
Ocean-Friendly & Plastic-Free Yarn
Have you decided to make the jump from acrylic yarn to natural and recycled fibers? Woohoo! You are the bomb! Thank you so much for making a conscious choice for yourself, the planet, and future generations.
Take a look at our most popular ocean-friendly and plastic-free yarns and check out the blogs below to learn how our yarn is made sustainably, ethically, and environmentally!