After reading a few of the holiday cooking or food storage articles, you may have started to rethink your food storage options, and now you want eco-friendly kitchen utensils as well. If most of yours are made of plastic, and you’re eager to know if silicone is a more sustainable material. That’s just what I’ll discuss in this post.
Are silicone kitchen utensils eco-friendly? Silicone kitchen utensils are silica-based and do not require crude oil extraction to produce as plastic does, making silicone eco-friendly. Silicone utensils are also usually recyclable once they’re past reasonable use, and the material is extremely durable as well!
If you’re eager to learn more about silicone so you can determine if it’s the ideal material for your next set of kitchen utensils, you’ve got to keep reading. Ahead, I’ll talk about what silicone is and where it comes from as well as how recyclable it is.
What Is Silicone?
Even if it’s not in your kitchen, I’m sure you have plenty of products throughout the house that are made of silicone. As common as it may be, do you know what silicone is? Allow me to explain.
Sometimes referred to as polysiloxane, silicone is a type of polymer that comes from silica or silicon dioxide.
You know silica mostly as silica salt, aka the little packets you sometimes find in shoes, clothing, and other retail goods.
The texture of silicone is rubber-like, although in some applications, it can be more like an oil. Silicone is colorless.
Silicone has many uses, including in cooking utensils, electrical and thermal insulation, medications, lubricants, adhesives, and sealants.
How does silica become silicone?
Through carbon heating, which allows for the extraction of silicon. Then the silicon goes through a series of hydrocarbons until you get the polymer that creates silicone.
Silicone boasts a multitude of properties that make it suitable for cookware. It doesn’t allow for microbial growth, so it’ll be less germy (you still have to clean your utensils though!). It’s thermally stable until temperatures reach 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Additionally, silicone is nontoxic, which is very important in the kitchen.
That’s why when you walk into a retail store’s kitchen section or browse around online, you’re likely to see silicone everywhere.
Utensils are one such popular example, but other products include silicone kitchen mats, trivets, potholders, cookware lids, egg poachers and boilers, steamers, and chocolate molds.
Silicone vs. Plastic Kitchen Utensils – Which Is More Eco-Friendly?
You’re up to speed on silicone, so it’s time to compare it to another popular utensil material: plastic. Between silicone and plastic, which kitchenware material is better for our planet?
To fully answer that question, you have to assess the two utensil materials in areas such as production, durability, and recyclability.
First, let’s talk about the production of silicone and plastic, beginning with silicone.
Although silica salt might look unnatural, it isn’t. It’s sourced from silica sand, which is also referred to as industrial sand, white sand, or quartz sand. Silica sand comprises oxygen and silicon dioxide.
Silica sand is not the same as sand like that you’d find at the beach, nor is it feldspathic sand aka construction sand. Those types of sand do not have as much silica as quartz sand does.
For a product to be eco-friendly, it should use renewable resources rather than finite ones. Silica sand is not infinite, but it is vastly abundant, at least as of this writing.
Silicone’s production is more energy-efficient than how plastic utensils and other cookware are manufactured.
Plastic comes from a variety of raw materials, including plants, crude oil, or natural gas. After refining the gases, they become propane or ethane.
The gases undergo cracking, a heating process. If the gas was propane, then the cracking process makes it into propylene. Ethane gas will become ethylene.
By mixing propylene and ethylene with a catalyst, the result is a polymer. The polymer has a light, fluffy, and powdery texture at this point. When it passes through an extruder, the polymer melts and becomes plastic.
The materials that plastic requires for production are not infinite in the least. Crude oil is especially problematic. When it’s burnt, such as to make plastic, the oil releases carbon dioxide.
If you’re not aware, carbon dioxide is the most significant greenhouse gas. The EPA states that, in 2019, 80 percent of the greenhouse gases in the US from human involvement were carbon dioxide.
Natural gas is no better for our planet, as its main component is methane. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, in 100 years, the potential for global warming from methane is 21 times greater compared to carbon dioxide. Yes, that’s scary!
The reusability potential of silicone is one of its greatest assets. If you take care of your silicone utensils, you could have them for a long time to come.
Mostly, you have to watch how close silicone gets to sharp objects. Knives and other pointy edges can easily slice into silicone. At that point, you’d have almost no choice but to replace it.
Silicone doesn’t stain though since it’s nonabsorbent. As I talked about in the last section, it can handle high temperatures, and it’s essentially nonstick. When using metal pots and pans, silicone doesn’t scratch.
Plastic cutlery and other utensils are durable, but only to an extent. For example, most plastics begin melting at 212 degrees.
Imagine trying to use plastic tongs on a hot meal that just came out of the oven and the tongs start melting! That’s not durable at all.
Plastic can scratch and sustain damage when exposed to sharp edges and surfaces much like silicone. The material can also stain easily, and discoloration is a risk depending on where and how you store your plastic cookware.
The last area I want to discuss is recyclability.
Your silicone kitchen products are recyclable, but recycling them is not quite as easy as it can initially seem.
You must find a recycling company that specializes in silicone; you can’t just bring it to your local recycling center and assume they’ll take it.
If the silicone is properly recycled, it can become mulch and industrial lubricant, enjoying a new useful life.
Plastic as a whole is recyclable, but once you get into specific plastic products like cookware and utensils, whether you can recycle them is up in the air. For instance, if you have plastic pots in your kitchen, those aren’t recyclable.
Other Eco-Friendly Kitchen Utensil Materials for Your Consideration
Variety is the spice of life, as they say. If you don’t want your kitchen filled to the brim with silicone utensils and cookware, that’s far from the only sustainable material out there. Here are three more materials to shop today!
How about some utensils that can stand up to almost anything? Those would undoubtedly be made of stainless steel.
Stainless steel is produced of a combination of raw materials, including molybdenum, silicon, chromium, iron ore, and nickel. The ingredients melt and become one tough alloy.
As the name suggests, stainless steel doesn’t stain, which makes it a perfect kitchen material. It has a very long lifespan of about 50 years. Stainless steel resists corrosion, it doesn’t bend in hot temperatures, and its tensile strength is seriously impressive.
You do want to be careful when using stainless steel with other metal cookware such as pots and pans, as the metals can scratch. When you decide to eventually retire your stainless steel utensils, you can recycle them.
Wood comes from trees, any one variety of them, and since trees can grow infinitely, wood is considered a renewable resource.
As a cookware choice, wood is great. It’s heat-resistant and has low thermal conductivity, especially compared to metals like stainless steel.
The natural grippiness of wood makes it easy to keep a hold on your utensils. Wood is also lightweight so you can maneuver around the kitchen with ease.
By taking wood to a recycling center, it can become scrap wood that might get used to make wood pellets, panel boards, or paper.
Bamboo is yet another eco-friendly kitchen utensil material to consider outside of silicone.
Although you might assume that bamboo and wood are very similar, they aren’t! Bamboo belongs to the Poaceae family. Here’s a fun fact, the plant is technically grass.
While it takes a tree anywhere from 20 to 70 years to grow so harvesters can source wood, bamboo grass is mature between three and six years old.
That makes bamboo very renewable!
As a kitchen utensil, bamboo is beloved for its easy care and maintenance. The wood plays nicely with non-stick cookware, and it doesn’t smell or stain even if you use it a lot. The lightweight quality of bamboo is also appealing.