Is Silicone Eco-Friendly?

silicone illustration

Silicones are an extremely versatile material that is used in a wide range of sectors and consumer products. Because they can endure high temperatures and absorb stress, silicones may be found in aerospace and construction adhesives, coatings, and sealants. They're utilized as sealants in electronics since they are moisture-, salt-, and corrosion-resistant.

Not only this, silicones take all kinds of material forms and are also found in polishes, deodorants, and make-up. The most common application, however, is found in household goods such as bakeware and storage containers.

What is Silicone Material?

Silicone is a synthetic rubber created from silicon, the second most abundant element in the earth's crust.  It can be synthesized from sand and purified quartzite, which is then converted into silica glass in high-temperature ovens. This process allows silicon to bond with carbon atoms, resulting in a flexible polymer that can be used in an extremely wide variety of commercial products.  As a result, silicone can be found everywhere from your cellphone to your rubber ducky and even in breast implants.

What is Silicone Made Of?

Silicone typically consists of long, resilient chains of molecules called polymers that vary widely depending on the manufacturer and intended use of the end product.  Typically, silicone is made up of organic carbon-based compounds combined with oxygen, hydrogen, chlorine, or fluorine.  Polymers are put together using a cross-linking process that links long molecular chains to hold the material in place and produce an unbreakable bond.  This allows the material to stretch without breaking.

Silicone starts out as clear, silicone oil that is mixed with a platinum catalyst and poured into molds that are pre-measured according to the desired measurements of the finished product.  The mixture then begins reacting, or curing, creating solid silicon rubber in just a few minutes.  After a short time, the material will harden and gain strength, resulting in a product that is not only flexible but also long-lasting.

Is Silicone Eco Friendly?

Silicone is considered to be more environmentally and earth-friendly than plastic because it can endure high temperatures, contains no harmful chemicals that could harm the planet, lasts a long time, and produces very few emissions. The silica used in its production can also be recycled for future uses.

Having said that, Silicone is far from being the most eco-friendly product on the market. Not only does the production of silicone require using hydrocarbons from petroleum and petroleum derivatives, but it also has difficulty being accepted at the most common recycling centers. Silicone must be taken to a specialist recycling facility for it to be recycled correctly. Silicone can then be downcycled into a variety of goods, such as an industrial lubricant or mulch.

Silicone is considerably more environmentally beneficial than plastic since it has a longer lifespan and is less likely to leach chemicals into other objects, such as food when compared with Plastic.

However, the production of silicone can be very expensive because it requires heating sand to incredibly high temperatures.  Silicone also emits fewer toxic fumes than plastic, which could be beneficial should the material accidentally catch on fire while in use or storage.

Ultimately, Silicone is not biodegradable. However, because of its high durability, the chances of it breaking down and being discarded after a couple of uses (like plastic tends to), are much lower.

Are There Any Silicone Alternatives?

Perhaps the only material with the same properties and benefits of using silicone is glass. Like Silicone, it can be used as a container as it prevents contamination. While glass is manufactured using a production process that involves oil, it is recyclable over and over again.