The Sustainability Club

Is Silicone Eco-Friendly?

Silicone is a man-made material that has a wide range of uses, from lubricants and sealants to medical implants and cooking utensils. For sure, just like me, you already have something made from silicone in your kitchen – it’s widely popular part of lunch boxes or cooking tools. And while I love how useful (and neatly looking!) it can be, usually there is a price the environment has to pay for any man-made material. Is it the same with silicon in your kitchen? Is it eco-friendly?


How is Silicone Made?

Silicone is made from a combination of silicon (a natural element found in sand and rock) and oxygen, and can be created in either a liquid or solid form. The manufacturing process begins with silicon dioxide, which is then heated to create pure silicon. This silicon is then combined with methyl chloride and passed through a furnace (with temperatures up to 3272˚F or 1800˚C, sheesh!) to create a silicone polymer.

The polymer is then cooled and cut into the desired shape or form. The resulting product is a versatile material that is resistant to heat, cold, and water. It’s also non-toxic and hypoallergenic, making it safe for use in a wide variety of applications. And believe be, there are plenty. Just to name a few, silicone polymers, are being used in the healthcare and aerospace industries, in the textile industry, construction, and (drumroll please…) cookware. All those additional material features, along with a more ecological manufacturing process, made silicon a really nice substitute for plastic. But you still need to wage the pros and cons of going silicone.

Is Silicone Better than Plastic?

After years of seeing plastic containers flooding kitchens around the world, it’s good to have at least one, more sustainable material getting some traction. And for good reasons:

  1. It’s not made from crude oil, as plastic (although there are some hydrocarbons used in the manufacturing process)
  2. It’s flexible, improving the storing possibilities.
  3. It’s durable – while it will tear from use, it can be indeed reused many times, mitigating the environmental footprint.

In general, the reusable quality, along with durability and protection from cold and hot temperatures, are making less silicon-based tools landing in the trash. It can be safely heated up to 428˚F (220˚C) or frozen to -76˚F (-60˚C). Comparing it with one-use plastic is just not fair to the plastic. But it’s not all rainbows, because when speaking of the wear and tear…

Is Silicone Biodegradable? Or Recyclable?

Well, it depends on how you describe biodegradability. In general, a biodegradable material means that it can be broken down by natural processes (e.g., deconstructed by bacteria in the soil), usually over a period of weeks or months. In US, we can count on EPA and Federal Trade Commission, with their biodegradable definition:

(…) items completely decompose within one year after customary disposal.

And if you look at this way, the silicon is… not biodegradable. It can take anything from 50 to 500 years to decompose silicone. Silicone is up there with plastic, piling up the landfills. It’s hardly an eco-friendly or clearly sustainable material, but it is eco-friendlier, at least friendlier than plastic. And you can try to recycle it as well! Some companies that are selling silicon cookware also provide a way for you to send the used tool for them to recycle. It’s a great initiative, since if you want to do it yourself, it will require some work:

Recycling silicone involves grinding it down, preparing a mold and then mixing the shredded silicone granules with fresh silicone.


It’s best to contact your local recycling centres to get more details.

Pros and Cons of Silicone

ReusableCould be more expensive
Flexible and easy mouldable into different shapesSynthetic
Easy to cleanNot biodegradable

Silicone is hardly a silver bullet of sustainable cookware, but it is proving itself as a nice material to work with (especially compared to the plastic alternatives). Not an extremely eco-friendly and sustainable, but when reused, it can be a charming alternative to plastic, especially when a container seal is needed.

Is Silicone Eco-Friendly?
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