Is Silicone Sustainable? Facts you need to know about silicone

Silicone is everywhere, and is seen as an eco-friendly alternative to plastic. So is silicone sustainable?
Is silicone sustainable

What is silicone made of and where does it come from and is silicone eco friendly? Read on to find out is silicone sustainable?

What is silicone made from?

Silicone is made from carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and silicon. Silicon comes from silica or silicon dioxide which is derived from sand. 

According to Britannica Silicon is a non metallic chemical element in the carbon family and makes up 27.7% of the earth’s crust and is the second most abundant element after oxygen.

Silicone is so popular because of its stable form and its many uses. It can be mixed with other substances such as pigments, dyes and fillers, so can take on many forms: from stretchy gels to rigid solids to flexible fluids.

Some forms of silicone are soluble in organic solvents. This is useful because of the many possible applications, such as adhesives, paints, insulation and lubricants.

Silicone can also withstand great variations in temperature and also has excellent resistance to environmental weathering.

Food grade silicone is also not toxic which makes it an excellent material for food storage and baby products.

How sustainable is silicone production?

quartz sand

Silicone is a substance that is manufactured and the process is intensive. 

Firstly the silicone needs to be isolated from the silica and this requires heating large volumes of quartz sand to temperatures of up to 1800 degrees. The resulting silicon is ground to a fine powder and mixed with compounds such as methyl chloride then distilled and polymerized. More details on the process can be found here.

China accounts for over 60% of silicone production, and China is well documented as having one of the worst greenhouse emissions rates. Contributing to over 25% of emissions. Depending on where your silicone is manufactured will be a major contributor to how sustainable it is.

Is silicone biodegradable?

Silicone products are not biodegradable. Biodegradable is a product’s ability to naturally decompose. Silicone, although made from sand, does not easily degrade and can take up to 500 years. Silicone also needs to be exposed to specific conditions to degrade, the most responsible option is to recycle where available. However silicone is much more likely to be reused and therefore avoid being thrown away which does avoid waste. This may potentially have a net positive effect by avoiding plastic waste. For example, a woman can use 10,000 disposable menstrual products over her lifetime but a small silicone product like a menstrual cup could last 10 years.

Can you recycle silicone?

recycling symbol on green bin

Technically yes pure silicone can be recycled, however in reality it’s more difficult that just putting it in your recycling bin. You will need to research your local recycling facilities and what they accept or, find a specialist to send it to.

If you recycle with terra cycle they will accept silicone products. Please check their site for more details.

There is also the option to recycle your silicone products at home. Although more time consuming you will have certainty your products are being recycled.

Is silicone better than plastic

There are quite a few reasons why using silicone products might be better than plastic. Its safe to use with food, it does not breakdown into billions of microfragments, it can last for decades unchanged, and its also dishwasher and oven safe.

How to recycle silicone at home

Recycling silicone products at home only requires a few steps and some basic equipment and you will ensure your old silicone is repurposed rather than sent to landfill.

3 steps to recycling silicone at home

  1. Find or create a mould
  2. Grind or shred the old silicone down into very small pieces
  3. Mix the old silicone with fresh silicone

There are lots of guides available that give more detail to this process.

So is silicone sustainable?

Silicone is more sustainable than single use plastic as it can be used many times and has a long usable life. However it does take a lot of fossil fuel energy to produce and it can be harder to recycle. Finding a more sustainable supplier of your silicone and ensuring you recycle will improve the overall sustainability of silicone.

To read more tips on sustainable living click here.

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