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Many people know that silicone is used in computers, mobile phones, and cooking utensils. But did you know that it is also used in pharmaceuticals and vehicle components?
Silicone is one of the most useful elements to mankind. It has applications across a vast range of sectors and is playing a vital part in modern society for generations to come. Silicone is also found in many electrical devices, including solar power cells, photovoltaic cells, capacitors, solar thermal collectors, and semiconductors.
Silicone products are often touted as more eco-friendly than plastic, but is it true? In this article, we’ll find out if silicone is really more sustainable and biodegradable.
Silicones are polymers, or ‘chainlike’ molecules made up of several atoms with repeating structures. These repeating structures make silicone sturdy, flexible, and resilient. Silicone is made in the laboratory with a combination of elements — silicon, hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon.
Silicones are somewhere in between rubbers and plastics. Rubber is elastic, plastic is rigid, siloxanes are elastic, hard, and plastic-like. Silicones have been around for several decades and they’ve become popular in many technical applications.
Silicone is used to create tires, caulking, lubricants, breast implants, pacemakers, menstrual cups, artificial limbs, Teflon pans, and computer chips.
Because of their chemical inertness, silicones are resistant to most chemicals and heat, ultraviolet light, and ozone. They are helpful in making nonstick cookware, medical implants, and contact lenses. Because of their low density, they float in water and their transparency, high refractive index, and surface smoothness make them useful as water-resistant materials.
Coming to the biggest question, unfortunately, the answer is no.
Similar to plastics, silicone stays in the environment for a very long time without degrading. Silicone can withstand extreme heat and doesn’t react much with other chemicals and so, it’s tough to decompose naturally.
But on the other hand, silicone doesn’t break down into microparticles or actually cause harm to the environment. It sits in its idle state, not decomposing and not reacting with the natural elements on our planet.
So then the next question many have is:
Yes, since silicone doesn’t shed microplastics into the water or soil while plastics do. These microplastics are one of the most important reasons why plastics are harming our environment and living organisms.
However, silicone is still not better than plastics when it comes to the environment since it is not easily recycled and will always be less convenient. It can block the movement of water for the trees and may have some serious consequences when consumed by living organisms.
In general, the common notion is that food-grade silicone is inert and non-toxic. It does not absorb, release or leach any chemical substance. It does not interact with other food additives or foods and does not contaminate the food supply. It is also non-flammable, non-corrosive, and non-toxic. It has no known allergic or toxic reactions.
It’s also believed that food-grade silicone is resistant to sterilizing solutions. Sterilization with steam will not affect silicone. Food-grade silicone products were designed and tested to be safe for human ingestion. And this is reflected in the website of Health Canada that states, “There are no known health hazards associated with the use of silicone cookware. Silicone rubber does not react with food or beverages or produce any hazardous fumes.”
But there’s also a warning on the same website — “Do not use silicone cookware at temperatures above 220°C (428°F) as it will melt if exposed to high temperatures.”
There have also been studies conducted that state that prolonged exposure of food substances to silicone has resulted in the leaching of chemicals, like in this case of silicone nipples where siloxane leached into the baby milk when exposed to silicone for 72 hours.
So we need to be careful about using silicone for food materials. It’s better not to buy silicone materials in the first place and repurpose the existing silicone items we have in our household.
Silicone products tend to be very durable, so they’re good candidates for recycling. But most companies don’t think about recycling when they make silicon products. They think of them as single-use throwaway products and that’s what they thought of when they were made, too. And there aren’t as many recycling units of silicone as plastic recycling plants.
So when the chances of recycling silicone are less, it’s best to go for better biodegradable items than silicone. If you’re already using silicone items, you can reach out to your nearest silicone recycling factory or repurpose it.
The next time you reach out to buy a silicone item, look for eco-friendly and biodegradable alternatives. Every small action we do to make our world a better place to live counts and contributes to creating a healthy environment.