What is silicone? Is it plastic? Is it safe? Should we choose products made from it?
You may have noticed that this soft, flexible, plastic-like material is popping up everywhere from kids’ spoons and plates to baking sheets. It’s touted as our century’s wonder material!
The truth is a little complicated. In fact, I actually changed my viewpoint after I did the research for this post.
I used to think it was 100% safe, and now I’m skeptical. It does have some very real advantages over plastic, but it also has some drawbacks.
What is it?
It’s a material made from the natural element silicon, which is found in rocks/sand. Some people describe it as a “synthetic rubber” or a polymer made from sand.
Some classify it as a plastic, while others do not. (I’m referring to them separately to make it easier.)
✅ It is highly durable and can be reused for many, many years
✅ It’s widely thought to be non-toxic with no off-gassing or chemical leaching, even when heated or frozen
✅ It’s soft, smooth, and pliable
✅ It can be sterilized
❌ As of right now, it cannot be readily recycled
❌ It doesn’t easily decompose in the environment
❌ It is made with a mix of additives, including those derived from fossil fuels
❌ Some sources question its safety (it’s possible that it might not be as inert as we thought)
How is it used?
It has a variety of uses, including for computer chips and in the medical field. It’s also an:
- alternative to some BPA- or BPS-based baby and children’s things, and things that otherwise contain phthalates (bottle nipples, nursing gear, teething toys, etc)
- alternative for food and drink storage
- alternative to nonstick-coated baking gear
- I prefer glass and stainless steel over silicone, but I typically prefer silicone over plastic.
- It’s likely safer than plastic, but also possible that silicone isn’t as safe as we thought.
- Choose food-grade or medical-grade, high-quality silicone.
- We need to ensure it is disposed of properly.
Some further reading, if you’re interested:
- Danish Ministry of the Environment. (2005). Siloxanes – Consumption, Toxicity and Alternatives. https://www2.mst.dk/udgiv/publications/2005/87-7614-756-8/pdf/87-7614-757-6.pdf
- Ruediger Helling, Anja Mieth, Stefan Altmann, Thomas Joachim Simat. Determination of the overall migration from silicone baking moulds into simulants and food using 1H-NMR techniques. Food Additives and Contaminants, 2009, 26 (03), pp.395-407. ff10.1080/02652030802520852ff. ffhal-00577342f https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00577342/document
- Zhang, Wong, Begley, Hayward, Limm. (2012). Determination of siloxanes in silicone products and potential migration to milk, formula and liquid simulants. Food Addit Contam Part A Chem Anal Control Expo Risk Assess. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22575024
- Life Without Plastic: Silicone. http://lifewithoutplastic.com/silicone/
What about you? What do you think about silicone? Do you use silicone products?