Most of us are aware of the harmful effects of plastic. Plastic is not just harmful to humans, but it also poses one of the biggest threats to our environment and planet. Even though plastic has engulfed our lives from all direction, it is still not hard to let go of the habit. There are plenty of alternatives available to plastic.
There are 2 main concerns when it comes to plastics:
- Single Use plastics and their unnecessary need + the trash that it produces and ways in which it harms our oceans
- The toxicity of food and beverages leaching chemicals from plastics
There are two kinds of plastics- hard and single use. Silicone, in this article, is seen as the new replacement for single use plastics- in the form of straws, utensils, cutlery, etc. So what is Silicone?
One of the closest materials to substitute plastic is Silicone. Silicone is a reusable, long life alternative that can be used in bottles, lunch boxes, baby products, bakeware, phone covers, etc. The material provides a similar use and look to plastic, and is, therefore, gaining popularity. It is usually made with food grade matter for consumer goods and it’s also used medically (and extensively) in cosmetic surgeries!
Most people think that silicone is made from silica, which is a form of silicon, and also the second most abundant substance on Earth. However, Silicone (with an ‘e’) is actually a man-made polymer that is created from silicon, oxygen, and other elements. Scientific American reports, that according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), silicon dioxide present in most Silicone cookware is considered safe to use. However, we still cannot assume if Silicone is absolutely safe, as there haven’t been many in-depth studies on the safety aspects of using Silicone in kitchenware and baby products.
How Safe is Silicone?
Life Without Plastic advocates that Silicones can release toxic chemicals and are not completely unreactive to chemicals. The anecdotal instances shared by several consumers on the internet can in fact be true!
A study was conducted with silicone nipples, milk, and a solution of alcohol and water. While there was no release in milk after 6 hours, several siloxanes were found in the alcohol solution after 72 hours.
Another study also found that siloxanes were released from silicone bakeware. It was found that leaching increased with an increase in fat content in food.
Can Silicone be Recycled?
Silicone is not biodegradable but can be down-cycled into industrial lubricant oil. In addition to this, it cannot be recycled at your local recycling community and has to be sent to specialized companies to be properly recycled. This is a major reason why most Silicone products end up in trash just like plastic.
The only upside here is that plastic further breaks into tiny micro-plastics that can be easily ingested by animals and fish. Silicone, however, does not break down and is difficult for wildlife and ocean life to ingest.
How to buy Silicone?
Since the effects of Silicone are still not entirely clear, you can follow these guides while purchasing Silicone products:
- Try the pinch test. If you see some white, there is likely a plastic filler in the product that can lead to odor.
- Look for medical grade silicone instead of food grade silicone. Medical grade silicone is hypoallergenic and therefore safer to use, especially for babies.
Alternatives to Silicone
While Silicone is increasingly gaining popularity and seems like the next best alternative to plastic, it is still not clear if it is 100% safe for humans. Toxicity is big on everyone’s mind, right after environmental concerns. It also has the potential to indirectly pose the same problems to the environment as plastic does, with its imperishable properties- though not single use. If you are truly looking for alternatives to plastic, you can try the following:
- Stainless Steel:
Stainless Steel utensils have been used in bakeware and kitchenware for decades. They pose no potential risk to the environment and can be used for years to come without feeling the need to replace or repurchase.
- Wood or Natural Rubber:
Natural elements like soft wood and rubber are better alternatives to man-made Silicone and plastic. You can try switching to soft wooden teethers and rubber pacifiers. However, be careful, as latex rubber can cause allergies in some children. If you must use Silicone, try replacing it every six to eight weeks.
- Ceramic and Glass:
Ceramic and glass bottles or lunch boxes pose little or no damage to the environment and our health.
Conclusion: When thinking about single use, toxic plastic drowning our oceans, the very best alternative for reusable long life plastics is silicone. It’s easy to store/carry and is not seen as 100% unsafe, unless you will be using it to nurse an alcoholic beverage over 3 days… Still, in our something is better than nothing approach, we’ll take reusable silicone alternatives over single use plastics, any day!
Please Note: These tips are mere suggestions to help you lead a more sustainable lifestyle. We do not provide professional expertise in the field and by no means expect the reader to take the above opinions and tips as professional advice.