With climate change making headlines almost every other day, a lot of us are doing our best to make more eco-friendly decisions. Cutting the use of non-biodegradable materials like plastic in our day-to-day lives is one of the very first things you can do to lead a greener life.
You probably heard of silicone being a greener alternative. But is silicone biodegradable?
Unfortunately, silicone is not biodegradable. It does not decay like a lot of natural materials do over time. However, it is still much more eco-friendly than plastic is. Due to its structural similarities to plastic, it can often be used as a substitute for plastic items.
The answer isn’t that simple, however. Since silicone is also a type of polymer. So, there aren’t any bacteria or other microorganisms that can break them down over time. But different kinds of silicone might be biodegradable, depending on whether they are made of bio-based materials.
Let’s dig a little deeper to get a clearer idea of this.
Is Silicone Biodegradable?
Since Silicone has plenty of benefits and is generally considered an eco-friendly option by a lot of people, there’s a misconception that it is biodegradable.
Unfortunately, this is not true at all. When something is biodegradable, over time it decomposes to become natural materials that blend in with the soil. Silicone does not do that.
If you put biodegradable materials under soil or bury them, over time bacteria, fungi, and other living organisms in the soil will eat away at it and decompose it. Over time the material or it remains blends in with the soil and it becomes a part of nature.
Silicone on the other hand is made of siloxane chains making it an artificial polymer just like plastic.
They didn’t even exist a few centuries ago. So, the natural processes that allow biodegradation to take place haven’t evolved to decompose this material.
It is therefore not that different from plastic if you leave it lying around in a landfill. It might break and fall apart into smaller pieces but it won’t ever mix in with the land.
And due to the durability of silicone, it doesn’t even break down as much as plastic does but remains more or less whole. It’s very unreactive as well, so chances are it will stay intact for years and years.
How Long Does Silicone Take to Biodegrade?
Even though most kinds of silicone aren’t expected to biodegrade over time, their constituents and environment can change this.
Certain kinds of silicone are made with polyurethane which can allow existing natural processes to digest this material. Research implies that with certain conditions, silicone can biodegrade in about 50 or over 100 years.
And since bacteria and living organisms evolve at a very rapid phase, within about a hundred years or so there might also evolve organisms that can digest silicone.
So there’s a chance that eventually, silicone will decompose but the time that would take is so long that for most intents and purposes, we have to consider that it isn’t biodegradable.
Certain kinds of environments and conditions can also speed up this process. When subjected to much higher temperatures and kept in saline, silicone’s properties begin to change and it becomes more brittle.
However, without external conditions, most silicone will stick around on the planet for hundreds of years.
Does Silicone Damage the Environment?
Since silicone is not biodegradable, it can still be harmful to the environment. Whether or not it’s eco-friendly though, depends entirely on how you use it.
It’s still much more environmentally friendly than using plastic. It’s much less harmful and does not harm the ocean. And due to its durability, you can reuse it many more times.
However, it is far from the best option out there. If you can use glass containers or biodegradable paper or other materials that can be recycled or even composted easily, then those are eco-friendlier.
Even fabric or waxed fabric can be more of an eco-friendly choice than silicone.
For storing food or even cooking, glass is usually the best choice. Even though there’s a risk it might break, it’s still much more heat-resistant.
You can also always stick to ceramics or stainless steel for cooking and baking. These are recyclable and will also biodegrade over time.
So while silicone can damage the environment, it’s still a better alternative than plastic.
Whenever you are using silicone though, make sure that you’re reusing it as much as possible and give it to a recycling company when you can’t make use of it anymore. Try to dispose of it properly. It’s still always better to opt for glass or ceramic if you can.
How to Reuse Silicone
Since silicone isn’t very easily recycled, the best way to make it more eco-friendly is by reusing it. Whichever silicone products you buy try to use it as much as possible.
Since silicone can be washed and even boiled, you can clean it and keep on using it. Things like menstrual cups are great examples.
Once you can’t use the product for what it’s intended for, you can also DIY some projects to repurpose it.
For instance, you can add more fresh silicone to old ground silicone at home, which you can use in a mold to make something new. The old ground silicone acts as a filler to bulk up the project.
You can also use it as playground mulch for your kids. Simply grate it and spread it around beneath the toy area. Or you can cut up old pieces of silicone mats and use them as coasters or trivets to keep hot dishes off tables.
You can also use them around fireplaces to keep sparks from damaging your floor. It’s very durable and protective, so you can use it as protection for storage as well. And you can always wash it if it gets dirty.
The more use you can get out of your silicone, the better it is for the environment.
Is Silicone Worse than Plastic?
No, silicone is not worse than plastic. But, due to its durability and recyclability, silicone is still a much better option than plastic, even if they are both non-biodegradables.
Let’s check out some ways in which silicone is better than plastic, and why you should use it instead.
Better for Oceans
Microplastics are becoming a growing concern as they are infiltrating all oceans and getting into the food chain. Plastics break down very easily and become microplastics that organisms in the oceans end up eating. This is very harmful to the environment.
Silicone, on the other hand, does not break down into smaller pieces over time. It is very resistant to the natural conditions that break down plastic. There’s no chance of it leaking into the oceans.
More often than not, it will be found exactly how you left it. While this is still waste, it’s safer for oceans and other animals.
Silicone as a material is very unreactive, which makes it extremely durable. This is great for use as one silicone product will last you years.
Menstrual cups for instance are a great example. One cup can last you about 10 years as opposed to the hundreds of disposable alternatives you might need.
You can wash it, you can boil it, and it remains intact. It doesn’t break or melt and it’s very sturdy.
Plastic on the other hand can very easily melt or break and it just becomes worse in quality over time.
While both silicone and plastic are recyclable and reusable, due to their durability there’s a higher chance that you will keep using your silicone products.
Most plastic products like bottles and containers will be replaced after a while as it ages. Either it breaks or develops a fault or a dent that requires you to discard it.
With silicone, these changes are much less likely. So chances are you’re going to be using your silicone products much longer than your plastic ones.
Food safety is also another important point in which silicone is much safer than plastic.
Studies have shown that plastic can over time seep into food and water, which when ingested can cause health issues.
It’s made with petroleum-based estrogen-mimicking chemicals, so if it gets inside your body, it can be harmful. Plus, most regular plastic, you can’t even microwave. It’ll melt.
Silicone on the other hand is made of very unreactive sand and oxygen and does not leak into food or any liquids. It’s also completely microwave-safe, so it’s a better alternative when it comes to storing food.
Now that you know the answer to whether or not is silicone biodegradable, you can be more careful while using it or disposing of it.
Whenever possible try to reuse and recycle silicone. And when you can’t use it anymore, try to donate it to a recycling company that can professionally reuse this material.
While it isn’t biodegradable it’s still a better alternative to plastic. Hope this helps.