Of all the materials available for avoiding the use of plastic on a daily basis, the most similar would be silicone.
Silicone is a flexible and durable material made up of silicon, oxygen and hydrogen atoms. This makes it a perfect alternative to plastic for use in dummies/pacifiers, bottle teats and female personal products such as the menstrual cup.
Of course the benefits of high quality medical silicone are many.
In fact, over the last few months we have read various articles that go even a step further claiming that silicone is biodegradable. They even confirm that you can bury your menstrual cup in the garden together with your other organic waste once it has reached the end of its useful life.
But we want to let you know something… this is categorically false.
WHY SILICONE IS NOT BIODEGRADABLE
The term “biodegradable” is made up of two parts: “bio” (referring to life) and “degradable”
(meaning it can be converted into a more basic elements). Thereby a biodegradable material is one which can be broken down by living organisms until it can be reincorporated into nature again.
For example, this is what would happen to a banana peel after a few weeks underground.
But this does not happen to silicone. In fact, if you threw your menstrual cup onto the compost heap or burried it in your garden, not only will it take decades to breakdown (imagine your reaction if in 25 years time you decide to plant a veggie patch and discover your old but intact menstrual cup), but it will also never become one with nature.
Therefore we cannot say that it is biodegradable. Although it does have other advantages.
SILICONE IS AN INERT LOW-IMPACT MATERIAL
Quite the opposite to plastic, high grade silicone is inert. That is to say it does not give off toxins. So, if a silicone product ends up in nature, after a few decades is will break down into small particles that are harmless to the environment. Which is a huge advantage when compared to plastic.
Despite this silicone is still a waste product that requires appropriate treatment at the end of its useful life. Currently there are few places that can recycle them, therefore the best thing to do is to take it to your closest recycling centre so that they can dispose of it in the correct manner.
SO, IS SILICONE BETTER THAN PLASTIC?
Let’s say yes, BUT only for situations in which you cannot use other more sustainable materials. High grade silicone is the less bad alternative to plastic because:
- It is safer for the earth and for human life: as it does not give off dangerous toxins into the environment. In fact, the Canadian Health Department states on its website that there are no known health hazards associated with the use of silicone cookware, unlike those made of plastic.
- It avoids the use of tonnes of disposable products: one single menstrual cup can save the environment from the disposal of kilos of sanitary pads and tampons during its lifetime.
- It is more durable and much stronger than plastic: it can endure radiation, salinity and extreme temperatures, therefore when it ends up exposed to the elements in nature it doesn’t break up as easily as plastic.
- It doesn’t give off toxic gases when incinerated: if incinerated in waste treatment plants, silicone only gives off silicon, carbon dioxide and water vapour, in comparison with the toxic gases generated by burning plastics.
Therefore silicone, if it is high grade, is the less bad solution. But you can also find even greener options for certain products.
For example, if your little one is not allergic to rubber/latex, you could opt for 100% biodegradeable natural rubber dummies. You can also avoid reusable silicone freezer bags by using glass jars or stainless steel containers. Stainless steel bottles are also a good alternative to glass flasks with silicone covers.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Now that you know that silicone is not biodegradable, and you are aware of the benefits of this material when compared to plastic, we would love to hear your opinion: Do you use silicone products? Or do you prefer other alternatives? Let us know in the comments section.
If you would like to know more tricks and tips about how to reduce plastic in your daily life, don’t hesitate to join our community fighting for a plastic-free world.