How is Silicone Made? Is it Really Food Safe?

Silicone is an alternative to many more harmful plastic products. While it may not be perfect, it is widely considered to be preferable to other plastics. Silicone is a durable, strong and useful material made from silicon, oxygen, carbon and hydrogen. By comparing silicone to other plastics, we can begin to see the potential benefits of switching to items made from this material.

Our range of silicone products are designed to help you move towards a more sustainable way of life. We offer silicone baking mats as an alternative to non-stick plastic coatings, greaseproof paper or excessive oils in baking. Our mini cups, sealer bags and stretchy lids help you reduce food waste and reliance on more harmful plastic products. While silicone is not a perfect material when it comes to the environment – we do consider it preferable to many of the alternatives. By using our silicone products, you can move closer to a sustainable, zero waste lifestyle.

 

Net Zero reusable stretchy silicone lid

 

How Silicone is Made

 

Unlike most plastics, which are most often made through the synthetic processing of fossil fuels, silicone is made with the raw material silica. Like fossil fuels, silica (found in the world's sands and quartz) is a non-renewable, finite resource. However, silica is a far more plentiful resource. The material required for its creation is not as necessarily as costly to the environment to extract.

Making silicone involves heating quartz sand to high temperatures to derive silicon, a natural element. To make silicone, the silicon power is taken through a series of chemical processes becomes polymerized. It can be further processed to make a range of kitchenware products, or materials for a range of other applications.

It is important to understand that while the raw feedstock for silicone – silica – is found in nature, the silicon in its elemental form is not. The heating process requires an industrial furnace – and this furnace will require fossil fuels to be burned.

The hydrocarbons with which silicon is reacted to make silicone are also fossil fuel derived. So it is important to remember that while it may require fewer harmful fossil fuels than other plastics, silicone is by no means a pure green material.

 

Net Zero reusable silicone cooking wares

 

So Why Is Silicone Better than Other Plastics?

 

Silicon, a polymer like other plastics, is better than other plastics primarily because it is:

  • Durable, and longer lasting than many other materials. So choosing silicon rather than plastic products can help you keep kitchenware and other items for longer. Keeping and reusing everything you buy and own for as long as possible is a good way to cut your carbon footprint and reduce waste.
  • Silicone can be heated up, used in a microwave, used in a dishwasher, or frozen. It will resist cracking and other deterioration often seen in plastic containers and other plastic items when they are exposed to more extreme temperature fluctuations.
  • Silicone is watertight, and can be used to create watertight and airtight seals to keep food fresher for longer. Silicone seals help retain moisture, or keep moisture out.
  • Silicone is BPA free, and our food-grade silicone products are also free from BPS, PVC, lead, latex, phthalates, nitrosamines, formaldehyde, and other toxins found in petroleum-based plastics.

 

Net Zero Silicone Sealer Bags - Set of 4 Reusable Ziplock Bags

 

Silicon and Safety

 

When we are talking about silicone, it is important to note that not all silicone products were created equal. Whenever you are choosing a silicone product, it is very important to make sure that you choose a high-quality food or medical grade option. Inferior quality products may contain fillers, which can be bad for the environment and which may even pose a threat to human health.

Silicone is generally perceived to be inert, stable and chemically unreactive. It is FDA approved.

There is more research to be done. But for the moment, there is no better alternative for certain applications than silicone.

 

Silicone and Waste Management

 

Like other more damaging plastics, silicone is non-biodegradable. It is extremely durable – so much so that it will persist in the environment for longer even than other plastics. But one of the benefits of the durability of this material is that it will not, unlike other plastics, break down into ever smaller and smaller microplastic pieces. So even when silicone does end up in the environment, it is considered to be less of a problem for wildlife and ecosystems.

Silicones are usually fully recyclable. But it is not usually possible to recycle them through municipal recycling schemes. So it is important to take them to a specialized recycling centre once they do finally reach the end of their useful life.  Of course, once you have silicone items, the best thing is to use and reuse them for as long as possible. Feel free to return your retired Net Zero products to us, we will be more than happy to recycle them!

Silicone is an interim product – great for short-term divestment from more harmful plastics, but not a panacea. We understand that silicone is a solution for now – but that there are many other steps we need to take to move towards a truly sustainable way of life.

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