What is Acetate?

What is Acetate?

What is Acetate?

I’m surprised I haven’t gotten this question more but I’m also surprised that I haven’t talked about it earlier. A few times, people have asked, “Isn’t acetate…plastic?”

Well, sort of. 


In my best attempt to sum it up…

Acetate is a ‘bio-plastic’, as opposed to a ‘conventional plastic.’ Conventional plastics are made from oil, or petrochemicals. Bio-plastics are derived from plant stuff like wood, cotton or starch. They are also less toxic and don’t contain BPA (bisphenol A), which is a known hormone disrupter.

Acetate, AKA ‘cellulose acetate’ is similar to our paper towels, sunglass frames and believe it our not, our Rayon/viscose clothing in that they all start out from plant fibers! (Viscose is the generic term for Rayon and is synthesized from wood pulp…) Where it begins to differ is in how it’s processed.

With any kind of bio-plastic, the plant stuff is synthesized into a plastic by adding plasticizers which can be various types of acetic acid or esters, mixed in various proportions. Most acetate (and the kind that I use) is made with acetic acid which biodegrades, partially or pretty slowly. Some acetate is made with esters which biodegrades rapidly (even in just a couple years!)

Then there are fossil based plastics, or conventional plastics, which do not biodegrade at all. A very small amount of plastic can be chemically broken down and recycled but the quality significantly degrades. These fossil based plastics include:

  • PET (clear plastic bottles)

  • HDPE (milk jugs, shampoo bottles, trash bags)

  • PVC (tubing, pipes, toys)

  • PMMA (acrylic)

One thing I love about using acetate is that every bit of scrap acetate left over is re-formed into new sheets of acetate. It’s also super flexible and durable (that’s why its so great for sunglasses and hair accessories!) so they are able last longer in your wardrobe. Plastics like acrylic are super stiff and brittle and can break easily.

Obviously, acetate isn’t perfect, but it does offer a better alternative than a petroleum based, fossil fuel burning, non recyclable plastic. As a main producer of plastic and acetate, China will play a huge role in global emissions goals in the near future. If they’re to hit their 2060 “carbon neutral” goal, then hopefully, replacing petro-plastics all together will be a part of this new direction!


Wasn’t this fun…?!?




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