What is silicone?

Behold! The short article about silicone that you never knew you needed. Let’s go over what silicone is, what it is made of, where can you find it,  and some other burning questions that you might have.

Silicone has become enormously popular in recent years and are now used as safe replacements for traditional plastics.  Not only does it have plastic’s flexibility and durability, but it also differs with plastic in its toxicity; silicone is not toxic, unlike plastic. 

What is silicone?

So here's the sciencey stuff – silicone is a polymer, made up of siloxane (−R2Si−O−SiR2−, R = organic group). Glad we got that out of the way...

Silicone is a versatile product which comes from the family of ‘plastics’ or polymers. Its primary ingredient is silica — found in most forms of sand, maybe that's why we love the beach so much? To create silicone, you firstly need to seperate silicon from silica then mix it in a number of big furnaces and slowly let it cool down and finally ending up in what is called the distillation process. The process is fairly straightforward and can be done on a large scale for a relatively low cost. Which is why it’s no wonder that versatile silicone has emerged as one of the most popular elastomers (flexible materials) for both commercial and industrial use.

There are a number of reasons why silicone is increasing in popularity firstly due to its extraordinary properties for example being heat resistant and having no toxicity. You can find it in everyday items like the spatula you use to cook your eggs with in the morning and it's also present in your computer and phone. Some of the reasons that make it so amazing for kitchenware and household products = are:

  • Low thermal conductivity this means it won’t heat up or cool down too much when in the oven or freezer
  • Low chemical reactivity and toxicity this is why most household silicone products are FDA approved. No nasty chemicals leaking into your food your beauty products.
  • Thermal stability the material won’t change shape or properties even if heated up to 250C or cooled down to -100C. 
  • The ability to repel water and form watertight seals this one is pretty self-explanatory, but imagine how good it is for our silicone pouches. Perfect seal!
  • Does not stick to many substrates, but adheres very well to others, e.g. glass with this property, you can leverage silicone to create amazingly easy to clean products.
  • Does not support microbiological growth in other words, no mould growth or nasty stuff. Exactly what you need for household items that can get dirty. 

Is silicone safe?

Silicone is pretty safe when it comes to toxins and chemicals being released. In the US, silicone is food-grade approved by the FDA and Health Canada states:  "There are no known health hazards associated with the use of silicone cookware. Silicone rubber does not react with food or beverages, or produce any hazardous fumes". Studies that looked into the release of chemicals from silicone products into milk found no meaningful level of toxins or chemicals that were harm for adults or babies’ consumption.  

Another good property of silicone is that it does not become brittle with use. Unlike, for example, rubber, silicone can be heated up and cooled down without disintegrating. This prevents any silicone from ending up in your food or drinks.

The fact is, there has not been any research that shows any detrimental health effects of silicone-based products.

Recycling Silicone

The biggest downside to using silicone in Australia is that there are no dedicated silicone recycling facilities down under. Little Pepino partners with TerraCycle's Zero Waste Boxes which means that all of our silicone products can be recycled in special factories in the United States. This process allows the silicone to return to its original and virgin materials to then be turned to high-value products once again.

Another way of recycling silicone is to shred it down to little pieces and then (with the help of a catalyst) reshaped into other items. This process is way more energy efficient but it is limiting when ti comes to the type of products you can create with recycled silicone.

Silicone vs Plastic

To put it simply, silicone wins when it comes to offering a highly durable and reusable food-friendly material. It doesn’t leak toxins and doesn’t contain the harmful chemicals commonly found in some plastics. 

When it comes to the environment, silicone is highly durable and more ocean-friendly than plastic. This is because it discourages plastic single-use products and it has a longer usable life because of its increase durability.  Silicone endures extreme fluctuations in temperatures - from very cold to oven hot - without melting, cracking or otherwise degrading into microparticles that can contaminate your food or washed down the drain into the ocean.

By using silicone, you can dramatically reduce your dependence on plastics. Although plastic has its benefits, the use of silicone encourages less single-use products as well as reusable ones. For example, plastic containers which get scratched, foggy, broken can be replaced by similar items made out of silicone which will last longer and need replacing less often. 

Go team silicone!