Is Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene Recyclable? [How-to Guide]

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene also known as ABS is a widely used thermoplastic.

ABS plastics comprise three monomers, acrylonitrile, butadiene, and styrene which bond together to form a polymer that is durable and easily recyclable.

ABS is amorphous which means it can be melted and reused multiple times.

Moreover, due to its cost-effectiveness and recyclable properties, it is widely used in the manufacturing industry.

Rigid structures like decorative car interiors, keyboard keycaps, helmets, and Legos are made of ABS.

Since ABS has a low melting point, it is not suitable for structures that undergo high heat application.

Can ABS Plastic Be Recycled?

ABS makes an excellent choice for recycling because of its ability to be heated repeatedly.

Not only is ABS 100% recyclable, but the procedure is also simple enough that it could be completed at home with proper tools and a little bit of work.

More About ABS Plastic

ABS is a kind of plastic that is both an amorphous polymer and an opaque thermoplastic.

The term “thermoplastic” refers to a form of plastic that reacts differently to heat.

When ABS is heated to 221 F, the plastic turns into a liquid.

The ability to melt to a liquid state, cool, and then reheat thermoplastics without significantly altering their chemical makeup sets them apart from conventional polymers.

Composition Of ABS Plastics

The recycling properties of a specific plastic depend largely on the composition and structure of that plastic.

ABS is composed of three distinctive monomers that are bonded together. Each monomer has a unique characteristic to add to the resulting polymer to make it easily recyclable.

  • Acrylonitrile – Acrylonitrile is responsible for adding strength, and adds chemical and heat stability to the plastic.
  • Butadiene – Butadiene contributes to the toughness, shock resistance, and durability of the plastic.
  • Styrene – Styrene is highly responsible for the processability of the plastic and ensures a smooth surface area.
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Making Of ABS Plastics

ABS plastics are formed as a result of emulsifying. Emulsification is the process of mixing materials that don’t exponentially mix together but have the ability to come up as a single product.

After undergoing an unbreakable mass polymerization, ABS plastics are formed.

Is ABS Toxic?

ABS is not a toxic substance. As opposed to other plastics, it is substantially less toxic, which is why it is utilized in many children’s toys.

There are no known carcinogens in it, and ABS hasn’t yet been linked to any serious health issues.

But that said, it is still a contributor to plastic pollution.

Factors That Make ABS Plastics Distinctively Recyclable

Apart from the composition, several other factors are involved, which makes it easier for ABS plastics to become recycled.

  • ABS is a thermoplastic, meaning, it melts on heating and solidifies on cooling.
  • Besides being a thermoplastic, ABS plastics are chemically inert, they do not react with other elements.
  • Despite, having the ability to melt and solidify multiple times, the quality of the manufactured product is never compromised.
  • Furthermore, the smoothness of the finished product also remains the same.
  • Emulsification makes it an ideal product for recycling, as the process goes on forever.

The Process Of Recycling ABS Plastics

The process of recycling ABS plastics is quite the same as regular plastics that allow recycling. Plastic Recycling depends mainly on composition and temperature levels.

Step I: Collection Of ABS Plastics

ABS plastics are collected either by self-collection or disposal. Self-collection involves recyclers or volunteers going door to door to collect ABS plastics.

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The other method of plastic collection is when people dispose of ABS plastics in the recycling bin installed near their community or industrial area.

The collected materials are then sent to a Recycling Plant.

Step II: Segregation

Segregation allows the separation of plastic based on the type of plastic, resin, and color. Each plastic has a different chemical composition and that is why it needs to be separated.

Step III: Washing

To remove impurities and avoid recycling contamination, the segregated plastics are washed. Various water streams with different velocities are used to wash and remove undesired materials like metal.

Step IV: Shredding

Shredding or resizing shreds the plastic into tiny fragments. This not only reduces the surface area of the plastics but also helps in filtering out leftover impurities from the washing step.

Step V: Classification

This is an important step as it requires the classification of plastics so that they can be processed accordingly.

The density and air classification are done at this point and each plastic material is sent to its respective processing machine.

Step VI: Recycling

The final step demands converting shredded plastic materials into pallets. In the case of ABS plastics, shredded fragments are melted with virgin ABS pallets and high-quality recycled ABS Plastic is formed.

Overall, this process includes smashing, melting, and remolding.

Where Are ABS Used?

The uses for ABS are countless! The fact that ABS is a cheap plastic is one of the factors contributing to its widespread use.

From 3D printing, keyboards, luggage cases, toys, tables, chairs, sockets, power tool housing, computer parts, helmets, automotive parts, and aircraft applications, to containers because it is a strong plastic that resists corrosion when it comes into contact with abrasive materials.

Due to its lower melting point compared to other plastics, ABS is not utilized in products that are exposed to strong heat. In addition to that ABS is also not utilized for implants or other similar medical procedures.

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Is Recycled ABS A Threat To Humans Kind?

It is often assumed that recycled ABS plastics are carcinogenic. But the facts are different.

ABS plastics stay stable when decomposed and cause negligible health hazards in the recycling facility.

However, at elevated temperatures of 400oC or above, ABS then volatilize into its composite monomers which are carcinogenic in nature when heated at high temperatures.

Luckily, ABS plastics do not require this high temperature for recycling because they have low heat resistance and melt quickly. ABS is chemically inert, which means it cannot react with anything.

It is safe for us to use ABS since it is non-leaching and it would not seep into your toddler’s food or anything the plastic is in contact with.

Is ABS Recycling Hazardous To the Environment?

ABS plastics just like regular plastics undergo a temperature meltdown to get molded into newer products. Melting plastics releases chemicals in the form of fumes.

ABS recycling produces a lot of smoke which may be accumulated within the surroundings and cause respiratory issues.

Therefore, it is recommended to send ABS plastics to nearby recycling facilities. Recycling facilities are perfectly lined to avoid seepage and have appropriate exhaust systems.

Moreover, workers are advised to use PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) while working to avoid inhaling chemical fumes.

Conclusion

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is a thermoplastic which makes it conducive to recycling. Upon decomposition, it is non-hazardous to the environment.

Its non-leaching property makes it a good fit for manufacturing toys and other daily-use items.

ABS is entirely non-toxic and can be melted over and over again without compromising the quality of the end product. However, it should never be used near fire or any other heating system.

Recycling ABS Plastics must be encouraged at individual and state levels to reduce littering and overfilling of landfill sites.