[QA] Is silicon better than plastic?

August 8, 2020

Silicone is often used as an alternative to single use plastics as its great for being light and collapsible. But is it better than plastic?

An important distinction – silicone is different from silicon. Where silicon is a naturally occurring chemical element (the 14th on the periodic table if you can remember the song) used to form things like bricks, glass and concrete, silicone is a synthetic substance – a plastic mix of synthetic rubbers and synthetic plastic polymers. It does contain silica (which is derived from sand) but it also uses fossil fuels.

Silicone endures extreme fluctuations in temperatures – from very cold to oven hot – without melting or cracking. It’s pretty great for this. While its often communicated as a benefit that silicone is much more durable than plastics this also means it is much more long lasting in the environment.

Though it is technically recyclable, it is rarely accepted by curbside recycling programs. Some specialist facilities exist but not in most councils or boroughs across the world. We’ve had a few little quips back and forth with brands who advertise on their sites and product packaging that it’s entirely recyclable but when we ask to provide where they can recycle it they aren’t able to offer any facilities and admit it rarely can be.

That’s ok, we’re not at a perfect circular economy in any way at all nor do we demand perfection; but lets be clear about that and don’t greenwash the advertising.

Silicone is super handy for some things and will continue to be used, but this shouldn’t be where we stop. We don’t need to jump on it for absolutely everything – there are already better options and over time technology will create other alternatives too.

If it can reduce your plastic use substantially and there aren’t similar better alternatives (think menstrual cups, travel cups and containers) then it has a positive net impact. As with all things consider whether its use is a necessary one.