Silicone products are one of the common go-to eco-friendly alternatives to plastic products.
People hoping to reduce plastic usage or going for a plastic free lifestyle are often stacking up on all kinds of silicone products. However…
- Is silicone truly eco-friendly?
- What makes silicone eco-friendly?
- Is silicone biodegradable?
- Is silicone better for the environment than plastic?
These and more silicone-related questions is what we will be answering in this article.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is Silicone?
Some people confuse silicone with Silicon (without an “e”), but the two are different.
Silicon (Si) is a naturally occurring chemical element, whereas “silicone” is a synthetic polymer.
Polymers are materials composed of long, repeating chains of molecules.
What is Silicone made of?
Silicone is made with silicon, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and other atoms.
It is primarily derived from silica or Silicon dioxide, the major constituent of sand.
One of the things that makes silicone a popular raw material for commercial products is its superb versatility.
A silicone can exist as a liquid, gel, and solid. It can also be hard, soft, and rubber-like.
Today, you can find all kinds of products that are either made of silicone or contains silicone..
How Eco-Friendly is the Silicone Production?
Silicone is a man-made material derived primarily from silica in the sand.
Unfortunately, isolating silicone from silica requires an intensive process that involves heating and reheating a large volume of sand.
The process requires burning fossil fuels, consumes a lot of energy, and produces tons of carbon emissions.
Not to mention the carbon footprint created when transporting sands to the silicone manufacturing facilities.
Yes, silicone production is not eco-friendly.
Worse, the furnace used to separate silicone from silica is not turned off as it will require more fuel to heat it again to the desired temperature.
Hence, the furnace will always be burning, consuming fuel, and emitting carbon gas continuously.
Is Silicone Biodegradable?
Biodegradability refers to the ability of a material to decompose after interactions with biological and natural elements.
Meanwhile, decomposition is the process by which materials are broken down into simpler organic or inorganic matter like carbon dioxide, water, and other compounds.
Unfortunately, there is no universal standard or a definitive guide on how to qualify materials as biodegradable.
Some sources claim that a material is biodegradable if they completely decompose within a year or less shortly after disposal.
For instance, food wastes, natural fibers, iron, and wood are widely known to be biodegradable.
Hence, if we use this gauge, then silicone is not biodegradable.
It can take up to 500 years or more for silicone to decompose in nature.
So beware of the hype and greenwashing.
Just because silicone is made from sand doesn’t mean it is automatically biodegradable.
The same thing can be said with most fabrics made from bamboo.
You’d be appalled to know the chemical intensive process of creating the most commonly used bamboo fabric that eventually makes them nonbiodegradable.
But back to the main topic…
Silicone is Recyclable, but…
Silicone is fully recyclable, but there is a catch.
But before we move on, we want to clarify that this is not some anti-silicone article.
We simply want to provide full transparency and educate our fellow eco-warriors with facts about the “real” eco-friendliness of silicone products.
Now, back to how you can recycle silicone.
Many consumers didn’t know that they can’t simply send recyclable trash to any recycling centers.
Unfortunately, different materials need specific recycling facilities to be processed – the same is true when recycling silicone.
So while silicone products are recyclable, their recyclability depends on the availability of silicone recycling facilities near you.
Try searching online for “silicone recycling facilities near me.” You can also ask around your neighborhood if anyone knows any silicone recycling centers.
If you’re currently living in areas where there are no silicone recycling facilities, don’t worry.
There are still ways to recycle your old silicone products.
For example, the TerraCycle zero waste box allows you to recycle almost every type of non-biodegradable waste, including silicone.
Is Silicone Zero Waste?
Since a zero waste lifestyle is more about reducing the amount of trash we send to landfills, we consider silicone products zero waste.
Silicone products are generally durable and can last for many years with proper care.
They can be excellent alternatives to single-use plastic products like food wrappers, packaging, baking mats, etc.
Silicone water bottles, kitchen utensils, and food containers are also very popular today.
When they come at the end of their usability, you can send them to silicone a recycling center which will reduce the amount of trash dumped in the landfills.
And unlike plastic, silicone doesn’t release toxic gases when recycled.
But we would love to hear your thoughts.
In your opinion, are silicone products zero waste?
Is Silicone Bad for the Environment?
There are clear environmental advantages and disadvantages to using silicone products.
Environmental Advantages of Silicone
- Durable and can last for a long time
- It helps reduce the use of plastic
- Derived from silica, the most abundant material on the Earth’s crust
Environmental Disadvantages of Silicone
- The production of silicone has a massive toll on the environment
- Silicone is not biodegradable
- Silicone recycling facilities are rare
- While there is an abundance of silica in rocks and sand, it is not an unlimited resources
Based on these facts, would you say that silicone is good or bad for the environment?
Is Silicone Better for the Environment than Plastic?
The only definitive way to answer this question is to have a side by side comparison between silicone and plastic.
Silicone vs. Plastic: Sustainability
The main ingredient in most plastic materials is a derivative from crude oil and natural gas; both are rare and non-renewable resources.
On the other hand, silicone is primarily derived from silica, a material easily found in the sand.
And even though sand can’t exactly be considered an unlimited resource, it’s more abundant and more easy to acquire than crude oil and natural gas.
Hence, we conclude that silicone is more sustainable than plastic.
Silicone vs. Plastic: Material Production
The production of silicone requires consistent burning of fossil fuels, which creates tons of carbon emissions.
Plastics are made using a heating process called “cracking,” which also requires burning fossil fuels.
So we can assume but both materials’ impact on the planet are comparable when it comes to production.
Silicone vs. Plastic: Durability
Silicone products are generally more durable and temperature resistant than plastic.
They can withstand freezing and hot temperatures better than plastic, making them a popular choice for people looking to “green” their kitchen.
And since they are more durable, silicone products often last longer and do not need to be replaced as often, and generate less waste.
However, not all silicone products are created equal.
Some silicone manufacturers add fillers made of plastic and petroleum chemicals to their silicone products to reduce material costs.
Silicone products with fillers are less durable and are inferior in quality to pure silicone products.
Tip: Twist a silicone product you buy. If discoloration appears, then it contains fillers. Products made with pure silicone don’t change colors when twisted.
Silicone vs. Plastic: Material Recyclability
Both silicone and plastic are recyclable in proper recycling facilities.
Silicone vs. Plastic: Biodegradability
Both silicone and plastic are non-biodegradable materials and will take hundreds or thousands of years to decompose in nature completely.
Silicone and Plastic Environmental Impacts Table
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Is Silicone Toxic to Humans?
Silicone is a very versatile material that you can find almost all kinds of silicone products these days.
But is silicone really safe for humans, especially if used with foods?
Many experts and authorities consider silicone products to be completely safe and nontoxic.
Silicone product companies also assures the public about their product’s safety.
Medical-grade silicone used in implants and eco-friendly hygiene products (like menstrual cups) undergo tests to be proven safe for use inside a human body.
Unfortunately, they are tested on animals first, so, not cruelty-free.
Food-grade silicone is tested and designed to be safe when it comes into contact with food.
However, one study revealed that siloxane, a silicone component, can leach into food it came in contact with after 72 hours.
Siloxane is considered potential endocrine disruptors, and have been linked to cancers.
Another study also observed siloxane migrating from silicone baking molds to food when it was used in electric oven at high temperatures of above 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
So for your peace of mind, we recommend sticking to silicone products that will not be exposed to extreme heat until more research is done about silicone’s safety.
The short video below can also help fill in additional information about the safety of silicone products to humans:
Final Thoughts on Silicone’s Eco-friendliness
When you Google the term “eco-friendly,” the top result says it means “not harmful to the environment.”
If we use the definition above, then we can say that silicone is not eco friendly.
Silicone production causes harm and pollution to the environment, and it is not biodegradable.
However, we are currently living in a world where we must strive for progress rather than perfection.
So while it’s not a perfect green product, we believe that silicone is a more eco-friendly alternative to plastic, given that:
- Silicone is derived from a more sustainable raw material.
- In general, silicone is more durable than plastic.
- Silicone helps minimize our usage and dependence to plastic products.
But what are your thoughts? Is silicone eco-friendly?