Silicone: A Story of Sustainability
In recent years, it seems that more and more products for the home have become available in silicone format, from ice-cube trays to oven mitts to nonstick bake-ware and more. These new products are seen as desirable for their incredible versatility—they are durable, flexible, stain-resistant, easy-to-clean and able to endure extreme temperatures without deteriorating. But the story of silicone is more than just a craze of convenience—it is truly a tale of chemistry working for the greater good, providing us with products that are more useful, longer lasting and better for the planet. Reusable and truly eco-friendly from start to finish, silicone enhances the performance of the products we use every day and makes the most of our natural resources at the same time.
Those floppy silicone muffin tins and heat-resistant oven mitts are in fact derived from simple quartz sand—an incredible example of what the planet can give us with just a little know-how. Silicone is the result of a series of complicated chemical reactions, all of which begins with just simple sand. This sand contains the second most common element found in the Earth's crust, and the element from which silicone gets its name, silica. The element is attained through a series of distillation and synthesizing processes of the quartz sand.
The following chemical reactions transform silica into usable silicone by involving just three other elements—oxygen, carbon and hydrogen. Through hydrolysis and polymerization, these atoms are coerced into a chain of repeating Si-O-Si units. It is the repeating nature of these silicone chains that explains the diversity of silicone as a material, giving it the physical properties and strength of a metal, with the flexibility of a plastic. What's more amazing, is that the byproducts of this continuous, self-contained chemical process are harmless and, in fact, useful to the environment. And yet, perhaps even more wonderfully, the life-cycle of silicone begins exactly where is began when the discarded products deteriorate back into sand.
But, it is not only in this way that silicone is a friend to the planet and significant factor in continuing efforts to make our lifestyles more sustainable. A recent study determined that the average use of silicone products saved approximately nine times the greenhouse gases it required to manufacture them! The incredible durability of silicone products grants them an impressive, long life of reusability. Because of this, they replace single-use items that are often also petroleum-based, and thus decrease our reliance on fossil fuels.
Silicone is an eco-friendly alternative to these shortsighted, use-once-and-throw-away products, and is arguably even more convenient. It is also being used to great advantage in many other products, such as electric cars, LED lamps, and detergents that allow washing at lower temperatures. It’s easy to see, silicone is playing a vital role in modern advancements toward sustainability, and is well on its way to being an irreplaceable part of our daily goal to live in an eco-friendly, environmentally conscious way everyday.