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Silicone is a rather strange material. It isn’t rubber, and it isn’t plastic.
It is known for being durable and sturdy material, but oftentimes, the following question appears –
Is silicone biodegradable?
No – silicone is not biodegradable.
Unlike plastic, silicone can withhold extremely low or high temperatures, preventing it from breaking down into harmful micro-pieces.
Silicone can break down only if exposed to specific environmental conditions, which can make silicone more brittle.
Since it is a topic that requires a more in-depth look, we will explore some frequently asked questions, including:
- Is silicone biodegradable? (Explained)
- Does silicone break down, ever? (silicone decomposition)
- How long does silicone take to decompose?
- Is silicone bad for the environment?
- Is silicone eco-friendly?
- Is silicone safer than plastic?
- Is silicone recyclable?
- How to recycle silicone products?
Is silicone biodegradable?
Silicone is not biodegradable.
The term “biodegradable” has two parts – bio, which refers to life, and degradable, meaning it can be decomposed, chemically or biologically.
Living organisms can break down biodegradable materials until they are absorbed into nature in a short period of time.
An example of biodegradable material is veggie food scraps. They can biodegrade if you bury them in the ground.
However, if you try the same thing with a silicone product, it may take decades to break down.
This is because silicone is a hybrid between synthetic rubbers and synthetic plastic polymers.
It is non-reactive, stable, and resistant to extreme environments and temperatures from -55 °C to +300 °C.
Does silicone break down, ever? (silicone decomposition)
Unlike plastic, silicone doesn’t break down into smaller pieces. This is because silicone is extremely durable.
It can withhold extreme temperatures, and it usually doesn’t react with other elements.
A recent study that examined silicone samples showed a great degree of stability against light exposures and high temperatures.
Yet, once they experimented with saline and high-temperature environmental conditions, silicone changed its mechanical properties, and they became more brittle.
So, technically, silicone can break down, but not freely, without external assistance.
This makes silicone safer for wildlife and ocean life since it won’t break down and be eaten by animals if it ends up in nature.
However, since silicone doesn’t break down easily, if it’s not recycled, it will stay for hundreds of years on our planet, before it starts to break down.
As we figured, the temperature and amount of oxygen matter, and if it ends up buried in a landfill, the chance of breaking down is even smaller.
Until silicone is more widely accepted as a recyclable material, unfortunately, a lot of it will end up in general waste.
How long does silicone take to decompose?
It can take from 50 years to 500 years.
There is no one single answer to this, as it depends on the environment and if the silicone is exposed to specific conditions.
Is silicone bad for the environment?
Like almost everything, it really depends on how you use it.
Silicone is extremely durable – it can withstand freezing and piping-hot temperatures. This means you can reuse it over and over again.
When you have a silicone product as an alternative to single-use plastics – silicone is the better option, and it ISN’T bad for the environment.
In fact, it can reduce a lot of waste. For example, the average woman uses 10,000-12,000 disposable menstrual products in their lifetime.
A single silicone menstrual cup can last up to 10 years!
Using a menstrual cup can dramatically cut down on single-use waste, from period products.
Is silicone eco-friendly?
There are various silicone products, that are extremely beneficial for the environment, and are a great eco-friendly alternative to plastic. (like the menstrual cup example above)
This is mainly because most silicone products are long-lasting and safer than plastic, but more about that below.
Is silicone safer than plastic?
Silicone is safer than plastic in many ways.
In 1979, the US Food and Drug administration considered the raw material for silicone products safe for food-grade applications.
Health Canada confirms that there are no known health hazards associated with the use of silicone rubber cookware.
Silicone is not toxic to aquatic or soil organisms, and it is not hazardous waste. So while it is not biodegradable, it can be recycled after a lifetime of use.
However, there is a flip side. There isn’t a lot of research on the health effects of silicone.
Additionally, a study tested if there is a release of siloxanes* from silicone bakeware and nipples into milk, formula, and liquid stimulants.
After the first 6 hours, nothing was released, but after 72 hours, several siloxanes were detected in the alcohol solution.
*siloxanes – the building blocks for silicone products
The conclusion is that we should be cautious when using silicone bakeware and other products.
Related post: Is Silicone Better Than Plastic?
Is silicone recyclable?
Yes – silicone can be recycled.
However, silicone usually has to be sent to a specialized recycling center to be properly recycled.
Try to find online a silicone recycling facility nearby and try to contact them if you have questions.
If you throw silicone items into your mixed/plastic bin, there are very low chances that they will be recycled.
Most silicone items are supposed to last you 10-20 years if you take proper care of them.
Once they reach their end of life, it is best to be recycled.
You can do it at home or send it to a recycling center.
How to recycle silicone products?
Recycling silicone at home:
It requires a few easy steps and basic equipment.
Step 1: Prepare a mold – either create one from scratch or use an object of the desired shape.
Step 2: Then grind old silicone down. You can shred silicone into small, shredded pieces with craft scissors or a blade.
Step 3: Once you are done creating a mold and grinding the silicone, it is time to mix the old silicone with fresh silicone. You can easily find new silicone in powder form as well as liquid form.
You can even get silicone molding kits. It will take a bit of time to figure how much old silicone you should add to the fresh silicone mix.
Keep in mind that using too much of the old silicone will result in a product with less strength.
Mixing the old shredded silicone granules with fresh silicone is an easy way to create a wide range of rubber-based products.
Recycling silicone in a recycling facility:
Scientists use other techniques to recycle silicone, but they’re often expensive because it is a very energy-intensive process.
Newer recycling processes can be less energy-intensive, and some types of low-grade silicone can be broken down into chemical components and reused.
If you want to send it to a recycling facility, silicone materials are usually collected and de-polymerized to recover silicone monomers.
The material is then used to make silicone oil that is widely used as a lubricant for industrial machinery.
As recycling silicone isn’t available everywhere, it is best to contact your local recycling plant and ask if they accept silicone products.
Silicone is not the best material, but it has some benefits and advantages compared to plastics.
Certain silicone products are excellent and can last many years if taken proper care of them.
Until recycling silicone becomes more accessible, we should reduce the mindless consumption of silicone products and choose wisely what we genuinely need.
What’s your favorite silicone product, and why?
Share in the comment section below! Mine is definitely a menstrual cup.