A silicone sealer bag with 3 heads of fresh romaine lettuce in it.

Are Silicone Products Sustainable?

Written by: Micaela Sauve

In the eco world, a common material that is used as an alternative to single-use plastic is silicone. At some point in our lives we have all seen reusable silicone straws or heard about reusable silicone bags—which perhaps is what led you here.

While silicone is not a perfect material, there are some key differentiators to consider when determining whether silicone is sustainable or not—and whether a product made from this material is right for you, like:

  • How it’s made
  • Its safety
  • Its usability
  • And its end of life

How It’s Made

On a basic level, silicone is most commonly made from 4 natural resources:

  1. Silicon
  2. Oxygen
  3. Carbon
  4. Hydrogen

The most energy intensive part of making silicone is the extraction of silicon from quartz, as it needs to be heated to the high temperature of about 1400℃ [3]. However, there’s less energy invested in the mining process because quartz is so abundant and doesn’t have to be mined in slabs like many other materials [4].

It is important to note that not all silicone products are created equal. Some silicone products contain what’s commonly known as fillers which can be detrimental to not only its sustainability, but also its safety.

Is Silicone Safe?

When purchasing plastics you should always be aware of what it’s made of. Unlike other plastic-free alternatives, you can’t just shop for silicone products anywhere and expect that they’ll be worth your money and contribute to a zero-waste lifestyle.

In fact, silicone can contain chemicals and fillers that prevent silicone’s resistance to heat and durability. Those chemicals can also leach out of the silicone, potentially being a health hazard.

When shopping for silicone products, make sure you always choose high quality. Look for products that are marked as medical grade or food grade and are stamped with approval from the FDA.

*All Net Zero Company silicone products are made from 100% FDA and LFGB certified food grade silicone.

Is Silicone More Sustainable Than Other Plastics?

The plastics industry considers silicone a plastic, and so do we. When compared to traditional plastics—like the plastic fork you get with your takeout—silicone is much better for the environment because of its durability, reusability, and its ability to completely break down. This is why so many green companies, like us, still use it in their products.

Silicone is extremely durable and significantly more ocean-friendly. If left to its own devices in a landfill, silicone will take centuries to break down. Though when it does break down, it will return to the earth—unlike plastic which becomes dangerous plastic microbeads. Traditional plastics are one of the most persistent pollutants on the planet and are typically quite fragile.

Furthermore, silicone has antimicrobial properties, which offers protection against bacteria, mold, mildew, and other hazardous microbes.

End of Life

When reusing is no longer an option, like plastic, silicone can be recycled multiple times without losing its structural integrity—though this process is still almost always considered downcycling. This means that it slowly degrades with each subsequent use and almost always results in a lesser product.

Silicone usually cannot be recycled by municipal facilities and has to be sent to a specialized recycling company to be properly recycled. Because of this, many users will simply throw away silicone at the end of its life (where it will sit without breaking down for centuries). To help combat this, we’ve partnered with Terracycle to make recycling the 'un-recyclable' easier.

TerraCycle offers free recycling programs around the world, sponsored by brands like us, to help you collect and recycle your hard-to-recycle waste. They have a team of in-house scientists that analyze materials to determine the best way to process it into new materials and are continually evolving as technologies change [1].

While it would be ideal to break silicone down to its original components and reused that way every time, it is currently very lengthy, energy-intensive and expensive to strip the substance down [2].

A better method is to further re-use the material by tearing, grinding, or melting it to make things like cooking molds, shredded playground mulch, industrial lubricant, or water-resistant insulation and powders for things like solar panels [2].

You can return nearly any silicone product by sending us a quick email and letting us do the rest for you. We know it’s easier to throw something away than to go the extra mile and recycle a product. However, for going the extra step with us, we’ll send you a free gift with your next order.

The decision is yours Net Zero Fam, are products made from Silicone right for you?

Source:

  1. TerraCycle, “How We Recycle,” TerraCycle. [Online]. Available: https://www.terracycle.com/en-CA/about-terracycle/how_we_solve.
  2. ECO USA, “Procedures for Silicone Cookware Recycling,” ECO USA, 11-Jul-2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.ecousarecycling.com/procedures-for-silicone-cookware-recycling/.
  3. CES, “The chemistry behind silicones,” CES-Silicones Europe, 23-Jul-2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.silicones.eu/the-science-behind-silicones-the-substances-used-to-manufacture-them/the-chemistry-behind-silicones-how-they-are-made/.
  4. Megan, “Is quartz sustainable? an honest look at the facts,” Citizen Sustainable, 11-Jun-2020. [Online]. Available: https://citizensustainable.com/quartz-sustainable/.

Comments

  • Sunny (D.L.) Steinmetz said:

    I am willing to use silicone as long as you at Net Zero will recycle it.

    May 15, 2022

  • Gina Sandlin said:

    Thank you for this information. We have bought silicone products from you because we trust that you do things right. However, I’ve had doubts in the back of my mind as to their earth friendliness and their safety. You have put me at peace. Also, thank you for the recycling information. I was concerned with that as well.

    May 15, 2022

  • Jane Moore said:

    Thank you for this informative and useful article.

    May 15, 2022

  • Shirley said:

    Thank you. This was very informative. I have read articles that made me question using the silicone products I recently purchased. I feel better knowing I can recycle these items safely. Hopefully that won’t happen for a long time!

    May 15, 2022

  • Audrey David said:

    Thank you for this article….very useful as I have been wondering about silicone….it does appear to be plastic by any other name, but I’ve now discovered many silicone products that do indeed last seemingly indefinitely and certainly stops me using any plastic at all. Now, if we could just figure out how to buy stuff at the market where we bring our own packaging…..I already bring bags for produce, but prepackaged items are an annoying conundrum still.

    May 15, 2022

  • Judi Cummings said:

    This was a great informative article. Thanks for putting it out there!
    Do you have a fairly comprehensive list of materials and items that contain silicone that would be suitable for recycling?
    Thanks!

    May 15, 2022


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