This is part of a series on How To Reduce Your Use of Plastic in the Home
Sept. 1, 2020 Deborah Esplin
Do you know if your silicone products are safe and good for food storage? Do you know what silicone is and what are the advantages and disadvantages? Do you know how to test your silicone to see if it is pure and good to use with food? Can silicone be recycled? Do you know how silicone is made? These questions and more are answered in this blog post with 8 tips and answers around whether silicone bags are a good replacement for disposable plastic.
What Is Silicone?
Silicon is an element in the Periodic Table. Silica is an oxide of silicon and is very abundant in the world and it is most often found in nature as quartz or sand. Silicone is made from carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and silicon.
The silica is extracted and made into silicon and then mixed with the other ingredients to make silicone. The direct materials that go into making silicone are all renewable resources, but the manufacturing process is multi-stage requires the use of high-heat furnaces that are fueled by fossil fuels. So the manufacturing of silicone is not 100% eco-friendly.
Silicone is sometimes called rubber or synthetic rubber, but it is not natural rubber. Silicone is also sometimes called plastic, but it is not plastic as it is not made from fossil fuels. Depending on whom you ask, it may be called rubber or plastic and sometimes an elastomer, but it is actually a polymer that behaves like rubber and like plastic. Silicone research has a long history and has slowly become more and more common as more types and uses for silicone are invented. It was the material used in 1969 for the sole of the boots worn by Neil Armstrong when he walked on the moon.
In the 1980s the first silicone cooking tools were invented; spatulas. Over time silicone bakeware, storage ware, and other products for food and kitchen use were invented. Silicone storage bags are a fairly recent addition to the lineup.
Is silicone safe?
Is silicone safe to be used with food and in contact with food? Both the US and Canadian governments recognize food-grade silicone as safe for contact and use with food. Generally, silicone is considered to be chemically inert, which means that it will not react with foods and not leach chemicals into the food.
However, there have been some studies that have found that silicone may leach certain compounds when it has been in contact with alcohol. One study found that soaking silicone baby bottles nipples in milk for 6 hours did not cause any leaching however soaking silicone in alcohol after 72 hours did cause some leaching of chemicals called siloxanes.
However, who is going to soak their silicone in alcohol? The European Union considers some siloxanes to be endocrine disrupters, however, Health Canada says that the siloxanes from silicone may have an effect on the natural environment but are not considered to be a threat to human health.
The most important thing is that you should only buy food grade or medical grade silicone to use with food and that you follow the instructions for that product. Silicone products can generally be used for cooking, baking, storing, and, freezing but they do have temperature limits and those limits can vary with the manufacturer so it is important to follow the recommendations for each product.
Is silicone durable?
Silicone is very durable. We do not yet know how long it lasts for but it has a long lifespan. Many silicone products can be put in the dishwasher but not all. It is important to respect the recommendations of the manufacturer to get the longest use out of your silicone. For use with food as an alternative storage solution to plastic and as a cutting mat, silicone should be safe and last a long time.
Can silicone be recycled?
Yes, silicone can be completely recycled, but you may not find a recycling facility in your area. Most municipal recycling programs do not take silicone. However, some manufacturers will take their products back, but not all. That is something that you could check when you buy the products.
There is also TerraCycle which is a program in Canada and some other countries around the world where you can send back many materials, including silicone for recycling. However, there is a cost to this. TerraCycle does have some free recycling programs, but they do not yet a free program for silicone. They accept the material, but you must pay to send it to them. As a group or community, people could share the cost and send their silicone back to TerraCycle.
If silicone does end up in a landfill, like plastic it does not biodegrade like plastic and it is less likely to leach harmful chemicals into the environment, like plastic. Silicone is less likely to break down into small pieces that are then eaten by birds, animals, and sea life.
You Can Repurpose Your Silicone
There is no reason to send silicone to landfill. Send it to TerraCycle or repurpose it. When your silicone products do reach the end of their lifespan they can be repurposed. They can be cut into potholders, used under hot pots to protect counters and tables, used as jar openers, used to make spacers in potted plants, used to stop pipes from banging, used to fill mouse holes, and used for many other common household purposes. There are many uses of silicone once it no longer performs as intended. There are videos and articles that describe uses for silicone so there is no reason to send it to a landfill.
Other Advantages of Silicone
Using silicone storage wear will cut your use of disposable plastic. Silicone does not support the growth of microorganisms and has a very low air transfer rate so generally silicone keeps food fresh and prevents freezer burn (see my video of Sept. 8, 2020, with the results of the testing of different foods stored in plastic and silicone). Silicone does not break or crack and most products are water-tight and do not leak.
How To Test The Quality Of Your Silicone?
Food and medical-grade silicone should not have fillers as these fillers can leach chemicals into the food. You should always look for products that say food-grade, medical-grade, or approved for food-contact on them. You can also test the quality of your silicone with this method.
- Pinch and twist one of the flat surfaces. If you see any white then there are fillers in the product and it should not be used with food. Instead, you could use that product to store crayons, jewelry, or other objects that will not be consumed as food or medicine.
Silicone is generally considered safe for food storage but it is important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Buy only food or medical grade silicone and do not send it to landfills at the end of its life.
In my opinion, the benefits of silicone, as a replacement for using plastic wrap and plastic bags for food storage, are greater than the possible risks of using silicone. Disposable plastic in landfill poses a much greater risk to our health then silicone. See my video from August 28, 2020,
that describes the risks around disposable plastic in landfills and the very low recycling rate.
Check out the previous blog post that describes the risks of plastic in the environment, Why You Should Get Plastic Out of the Kitchen with 5 Tips.
Check out posts on other topics here: Blog Table of Contents.
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Comments are welcome. I would love to know what you think.