Looking back at the previous decades, there’s no doubt that the use of plastic has dramatically increased as the years have passed by. The illusion of plastic helping us in our daily lives has caused irreparable damage to the environment as a result. In recent years, companies have taken notice of the situation and have started to offer more environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic, one of which is silicone food wrap.
What is silicone?
Silicone is a material that is made from 3 to 4 major ingredients; Silicon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Carbon. The easiest way to get Silicon is from Silica (a major ingredient in sand). The silica is heated with pure Carbon to break it down into Silicon and Carbon Dioxide. The extracted Silicon is then reacted with hydrocarbons (compounds made primarily of carbon and hydrogen). The hydrocarbons react with Silicon to form a polymer known as silicone.
Silicone can be considered a true alternative to plastic as it shares a few major properties such as the ability to be molded into any shape and being able to have its consistency adjusted, making it extremely versatile. This is the reason why silicone can be molded into tough, resistant items such as phone cases and sealants, as well as soft, flexible products such as silicone food wraps
Now that we know the origination of silicone food wrap, we now move on to whether this product is actually environmentally friendly. We will use four different metrics to understand the environmental-friendliness of this product; manufacturing, recyclability, biodegradability, durability.
As previously mentioned, silicone food wraps are made from silica and hydrocarbons as opposed to purely being made from petroleum in the case of plastic. Silica is a product that is naturally found in sand and although it isn’t exactly renewable, the sheer abundance of silica around the globe makes it somewhat renewable as compared to fossil fuels which are constantly depleting.
However, there is one catch; although the manufacturing process does involve renewable resources as ingredients, it also involves non-renewable resources. The hydrocarbons needed to create silicone are primarily petroleum-based such as alkanes and alkenes. So during the manufacturing process, although the product isn’t entirely made out of petroleum, a significant portion of it does exist in the silicone food wrap.
Plastic exists in various forms made from combinations of various chemicals and petroleum. This, therefore, yields different types of plastics, some of which are recyclable whereas others are not (Check out which types of plastics in your home are recyclable). Plastic food wraps are generally not recyclable due to their complex structure as well as the costs associated with recycling a product that isn’t going to be very useful the second time around.
Comparatively, silicone is primarily made from the same ingredients no matter the consistency, shape, or size, and hence is much simpler to recycle. Silicone food wraps can therefore be recycled with the other silicone items. The only caveat is that recycling silicone is not a very common process therefore you should always check which recycling plants in your area support silicone recycling.
Plastic, in general, is not recyclable and often photodegrades into smaller pieces of plastic called microplastics which are extremely harmful to the environment especially the wildlife. This is primarily because the microorganisms are unable to break down the inorganic petroleum and chemical compounds within the plastic. This is especially a concern for plastic food wraps because they can easily photodegrade and float in the water as microplastics, only to be ingested by unexpecting marine animals.
The chemicals used to create plastic are not added anywhere in the process of creating silicone food wraps, and it does not photodegrade when exposed to sunlight so it already is a more environmentally friendly product in this case. However, that does not mean that silicone food wraps are biodegradable. Silicone in general is not biodegradable due to the inclusion of hydrocarbons (which are essentially petroleum products). The structure is unknown to the microorganisms who therefore are unable to break the product down.
Therefore, although silicone does not photodegrade and release harmful chemicals, it certainly is not biodegradable so you should always look to recycle it.
One of the factors that are often overlooked when it comes to a product being eco friendly is the durability of the product. The more durable a product is, the longer it will last. Durability would also help with reusability since the product can be used over and over again without being damaged or worn out.
Although most of the items made from silicone are quite durable and can withstand heavy use for long periods, similar cannot be said about silicone food wraps. Food wraps in general are meant to be single-use, and silicone wraps are no exception. However, one major difference between a regular food wrap and a silicone one is that it is dishwasher, microwave, and oven safe, making it more durable than your average food wrap made from plastic.
So, are silicone food wraps eco friendly?
Being recyclable, having a lower carbon footprint, and showing somewhat greater durability than regular food wraps, silicone food wraps can be considered a more environmentally friendly alternative for packaging your food and keeping it fresh for longer. The non-photodegrading alternative to your regular plastic cling wrap is less harsh to the wildlife around it and the environment in general.
However, all things come with a bit of caution, and the same goes for these silicone food wraps. Always make sure that the food wraps you are buying are made from food-grade silicone approved by the FDA. Several shady companies try to cut costs by adding chemicals to the silicone so it can last longer, and when the food wrap made from this silicone is exposed to heat, these chemicals release into the food making it harmful for consumption.
With that said, silicon food wraps are an excellent eco friendly alternative and the right brand can offer your food the durability and flexibility that you’ve come to know and love with traditional food wraps without the huge carbon footprint.