Silicone has been advocated as a green product for a number of reasons. The first is in relation to the backlash over plastics which are potentially toxic. The second is in relation to trying to cut down on consumer waste by using non-stick silicone for muffins, cupcakes, and so on.
But what is silicone, and could it be toxic?
Food-grade silicone is non-stick and non-toxic. It does not leach onto food the way chemicals in plastic or foil can. It does not react to food or drink and does not release any harmful gases when heated, the way other non-stick cookware like Teflon can.
What Is Silicone?
Silicone is a man-made polymer made up of the elements silicon and oxygen. Silicon is an element found in silica; that is, common sand. It is therefore derived from a natural and renewable source. This makes it relatively clean and green, though it does require fossil fuels to be manufactured.
At present, there are no widely available recycling programs for silicone. However, it is so durable that if it is cared for well, it should last for a long time. It is not biodegradable, but nor is it harmful to water sources, soil, or wildlife.
Silicone has been proven durable in the last 30 years through its use as baby bottle nipples. They have withstood repeated use, washing, steaming, being put into dishwashers, and more. They are therefore a much safer option than latex, which breaks down quickly and which some babies are allergic to. In addition, silicone has been shown to be a safe and durable alternative to plastics containing BPA, which has been linked to cancer and diabetes.
Oven to Table to Freezer
Silicone is also useful because it can handle extremes of temperature. It can go from oven to table to the freezer and to microwave without damage and without leaching into food or setting the microwave on fire the way metal will, or melting like some plastics.
It is flexible, durable, and non-breakable. It is petroleum-free compared with plastics and is also odor and stain-resistant compared with plastics.
It can be hand washed or used in the dishwasher safely. It does not have pores, so there is no danger of bacteria lurking in the cookware. It does not fade with washing or scratches like plastic or other non-stick cookware. No allergic reactions have been reported.
Shopping Hints and Tips for Silicone Cookware
Make sure it is 100% silicone. Fillers, dyes, and coloring can introduce dangerous chemicals into the cookware and also make it less durable. Any colors should be BPA-free.
Don’t be tempted by cheap imitations such as thermoplastic rubber (TPR). They may look and feel like silicone but they are not as durable, can’t be used in high temperatures, and may melt. This is because they are rubber applied over a plastic frame, and that frame may bend or melt.
Some dishwashing detergents may leave spots or smells. Handwash, or use green products like Ecover. Care for your silicone-based cookware and it should care for your cooking for many years to come.