A common misconception about silicone is that it is not environmentally friendly. However, the life cycle analysis of this elastomer suggests that the material is more sustainable than we give it credit for. But is silicone biodegradable?
If you want to get silicone products but are concerned about the environmental impact, this article discusses the sustainability of silicone products and relevant eco-certifications to consider.
What Is Silicone？
Silicone is a polymer with a polysiloxane backbone. The synthetic material has a chemical composition consisting of silicon, hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. Furthermore, it has a rubber-like consistency and is used in several applications.
Because of its high performance and properties, including excellent abrasion resistance, chemical stability, and electrical insulation, silicone rubber products are popular. Other exceptional properties of silicone rubber include its ability to withstand extremely high temperatures and flexibility.
The silicone industry is extensive. Silicone rubber is used across several industries to produce several durable and abrasion-resistant products. For instance, it is used in the cosmetics, automotive, food, and medical industries.
Furthermore, 100% silicone is safe, inert, and free of harsh chemicals, making it suitable for producing children’s toys, feeding bottles, and food containers.
Although the silicone rubber manufacturing process involves the use of hydrocarbons derived from crude oil, the sustainability of silicone products still remains a concern.
In addition, because silicone is non-biodegradable and its recycling process is tedious, many people consider eco-friendly alternatives. Nevertheless, compared to other materials, including plastic silicone is eco-friendly.
What Are the Advantages of Silicone Products?
One of the properties of silicone that makes it highly sought after in the manufacturing industry is its durability. Silicone products have excellent abrasion and thermal resistance. Therefore, even with multiple uses, high-quality silicone products retain their shape, lasting as long as possible.
Silicone rubber is versatile and easy to mold into various shapes and sizes. As a result, this elastomer is used to manufacture products across several industries, from automotive to food and beverage. In addition, silicone products can be manufactured in several colors to make them appealing to customers.
Health and Safety Benefits
Silicone rubber is inert and non-toxic despite its properties. 100% silicone rubber is FDA-approved for use with food and medical devices. This elastomer does not leach into food and is used in manufacturing food storage containers, baking molds, cooking utensils, and seals exposed to food.
In addition, due to its biocompatibility, medical-grade silicone is used for manufacturing implants and hypoallergenic products.
Lower Carbon Footprint Compared to Other Materials
The carbon footprint of a material refers to how much greenhouse gases are generated from using such material. Plastic has a significant carbon footprint, contributing about 3.4% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Although silicone also has a carbon footprint, it is lower than plastic.
The Sustainability of Silicone Products?
Life cycle analysis of silicone
The life cycle analysis (LCA) of silicone rubber evaluates the sustainability of the material and its effect on the environment. The approach considers the potential impact of silicone products on the environment in each stage of their life cycle.
The life cycle of silicone begins with the extraction of raw materials, then moves on to their processing and manufacturing into valuable products. This process also involves the distribution, usage, recycling, and final disposal of the material. This entire cycle has an impact on the environment and its sustainability, which is why it is important to ensure that the silicone production process is as eco-friendly as possible.
Life cycle analysis of silicone addresses the potential trade-offs between silicone’s environmental impact and sustainability to help provide the best solutions for the environment. The LCA for silicone across its entire life includes:
- Raw material extraction: silica is one of the constituents of silicone rubber. This material is extracted from rocks and sand, impacting the environment. Nonetheless, the environmental impact of the extraction varies depending on the method used and the extraction location.
- Manufacturing: silica is mixed with other chemicals and additives to produce silicone rubber. The silicone rubber manufacturing process also uses significant amounts of heat. Due to the energy consumed during this process, greenhouse gases and other air pollutants are emitted.
- Use: silicone rubber is processed into several products used across several industries. The environmental impact of silicone at this stage will depend on the application and the product produced.
- End of life: Silicone rubber may be recycled or disposed of at the end of its useful life. The environmental impact depends on which method of disposal is used. Some companies offer programs to recycle silicone products and create less waste.
Resource Efficiency and Environmental Impact
Resource efficiency is essential for economic growth. It evaluates the environmental impact of silicone rubber and how to manufacture silicone products with minimal effect on the environment. However, silicone is not the most eco-friendly option. Nevertheless, it is a better alternative to plastic.
In addition, because of their durability, silicone rubber products are reusable, and using them as often as possible reduces the waste generation rate. Therefore, compared to single-use plastic products, silicone products reduce the load on landfills.
Recycling and End-of-life Options for Silicone Products
Silicone products are non-biodegradable and contribute to general waste and landfill problems. Although it is possible to recycle silicone, it is not an easy process and is expensive. Some facilities recycle and break the products into their component siloxane compounds.
The end-of-life options for silicone products are lower-grade products or industrial lubricant oil. The oil is often used as a water repellent in industrial machines.
The Eco-friendliness of Silicone Products
Silicone products are often considered to be eco-friendly due to their ability to be recycled and their biodegradable properties.
Comparison of Silicone to Other Materials in Terms of Environmental Impact.
Although silicone rubber is non-biodegradable, the material is considered to have a lower environmental impact than certain materials. For instance, silicone is more eco-friendly than plastics, PVCs, and synthetic rubbers.
- Plastics – plastic is not eco-friendly and is a leading environmental pollutant. Furthermore, recycling plastic waste can be expensive and takes hundreds of years to degrade.
- PVCs – polyvinylchloride is more eco-friendly than plastic but not biodegradable compared to silicone. Moreover, PVC contains additives that pollute the environment and pose a health risk.
- Synthetic rubber – although there are different types of synthetic rubber, generally, synthetic rubber derived from petroleum-based chemicals is non-biodegradable. Therefore, synthetic rubber may contribute to environmental pollution compared to silicone, especially when not disposed of properly.
Eco-certifications for Silicone Products
Many manufacturers claim that their silicone products are pure silicone and do not contain fillers. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. You can always look for certifications that certify a silicone product as eco-friendly. Some eco-certifications for silicone products include;
- Cradle (C2C) certification evaluates a product’s lifecycle from raw material sourcing to the end of life. Products with C2C certification meet strict criteria and sub-criteria that certify that each stage of its lifecycle is environmentally friendly.
- Green seal certification evaluates a product’s sustainability and environmental and health impact. Only products that pass the rigorous testing and evaluation process can be awarded this certification.
- FDA certification shows that a silicone product is safe for use with food and medical devices. Silicone products with this certification are 100% and contain no toxic fillers or additives.
Role of Silicone in Reducing Waste and Promoting Sustainable Living
Silicone is non-biodegradable, so it is not exactly eco-friendly. Nevertheless, silicone products’ durability and resilience reduce the waste generation rate. For instance, using silicone straws for ten years and recycling them at the end of their life does not generate as much waste as using single-use plastic straws.
Nevertheless, going only for quality silicone products for sustainable living is essential. Unfortunately, several products on the market claim to be 100% silicone, but instead, they are full of fillers and additives. You can tell these knock-offs apart by looking out for relevant eco-certifications.
What Should You Be Concerned about Silicone Products?
Manufacturing and Disposal Impact
Although silicone rubber is manufactured from abundant resources like carbon and sand, the process may involve adding additives to improve the product’s strength. Unfortunately, these additives may be toxic to human health.
The disposal of silicone products does not come cheap. Recycling the product is expensive. In addition, because silicone is non-biodegradable, indiscriminate disposal may clog waterways and harm aquatic ecosystems.
Potential Health Risks
Although silicone rubber is inert and generally considered safe, this material still poses certain health risks. For instance, substandard silicone products may leach into food and release toxic fumes at extreme temperatures.
Furthermore, food-grade or medical-grade silicone items should be pure and non-toxic. Unfortunately, if a silicone manufacturer uses fillers and additives, the products can be harmful to human health.
What Are the Misconceptions about Silicone and Plastic Products?
1. What Is the Difference Between Silicone and Plastic Products
Healthwise, the most significant difference between silicone and plastic products is the presence of phthalates and BPA. Unlike plastic products, silicone rubber products are BPA and phthalates-free. Therefore, they are not harmful to health. Another difference is durability. Silicone products are more durable than plastic products.
In composition, silicone has silicon, hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon constituents. Plastic, on the other hand, consists of polymers and additives. Furthermore, silicone is more flexible than plastic and can be molded into several functional products.
2. The Health Benefits of Using Silicone Rubber vs. Plastic
Food-grade silicone is non-toxic compared to plastic. It can therefore handle food and drinks at extreme temperatures without leaching. In addition, unlike plastic, silicone does not contain harmful chemicals like phthalates and BPA. Another health benefit of using silicone over plastic is that the elastomer is hypoallergenic and less likely to cause irritations or allergic reactions.
3. How to Avoid Common Misconceptions about These Materials
A common misconception about plastic products is that all plastic is bad. Although most plastics are bad, this is not always the case. Plastics made from HDPE are reusable and recyclable.
Other misconceptions are that the material contains harmful chemicals and cannot be reused or recycled. But there are several non-toxic, BPA-free plastic products on the market.
Common misconceptions about silicone are that it is harmful to health and too expensive. However, 100% silicone is non-toxic and is often used in medical and food applications. Furthermore, although more costly than plastic, the material is cost-effective in the long run.
Another misunderstanding is the eco-friendliness of the material. Although silicone is non-biodegradable, its durability reduces its environmental impact.
To avoid misconceptions surrounding silicone and plastic products, we recommend looking for relevant eco-certifications as a starting point. Additionally, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the properties of these materials to determine their optimal applications. With the right information, you can make informed choices when selecting a material for your needs, while keeping sustainability in mind.
4. The Environmental Impact of Each Material
The environmental impact of plastic throughout its life cycle is significant. The extraction and manufacture of plastic products are energy intensive and release substantial greenhouse gases. In addition, microplastics break down from larger plastic items, leading to plastic pollution of water bodies and harming wildlife.
Silicone, on the other hand, also has environmental impacts despite being eco-friendly. The production generates greenhouse emissions, and recycling is expensive. Also, the material is non-biodegradable, contributing to waste in landfills.
5. Different Types of Silicone and Plastic Products on the Market
Silicone and plastic have a wide range of applications. These materials are often used in the consumer goods, medical, and automotive industries. Silicone products on the market include silicone cookware, baby products, catheters, implants, gaskets, and seals. Silicone menstrual cups and food storage bags are also popular.
Plastic products on the market include IV bags, automotive interior trims, toys, and kitchenware.
Both silicone and plastic are used for similar products. For instance, there is plastic and silicone kitchenware on the market. Although silicone is not a biodegradable material, it can still replace plastic. In terms of sustainability, silicone is better than plastic, and reusing this material can reduce its carbon footprint.
6. Tips for Choosing the Right Product for Your Needs
- Before choosing a product, it is essential to consider your specific needs. Are you looking for a medical-grade product? Do you want to use the product for food applications?
- Consider the operating conditions of your application. The right product should satisfy the operation’s requirements without losing its properties.
- After deciding on your specific need, look out for reputation and certifications. Reputable silicone products suppliers use quality silicone. In addition, these products have relevant certifications that show that they’ve undergone rigorous testing and are safe for use.
- Price is another thing to look out for. Choosing a product that meets your needs and fits your budget is essential.
Silicone products are still a more eco-friendly alternative to many products on the market.
In addition to durability, silicone products offer exceptional properties that make them suitable for use across several industries. From cookware to medical devices, silicone rubber products are everywhere. Nevertheless, it is advisable to use these products responsibly for a more sustainable future.
Get Eco-friendly Silicone Products
Because eco-certifications and quality are essential for a sustainable future, it is vital to use the services of reliable silicone manufacturers.
Hongju is a leading industry expert with custom and tailor-made rubber solutions. Quality is a priority. Therefore manufacturing customized silicone products without compromising on quality is our goal.