Dear 100 Hour Board,
Why are so many environmentally friendly products made of silicone (e.g. baby bibs, baking sheets, etc) as opposed to plastic? Is it because silicone degrades more quickly or releases fewer harmful chemicals as it breaks down? Or is it something else?
-Greta Thunberg’s #1 Fan
Dear Greta Fanberg,
First, you may be interested in the report that Tipperary mentions in Board Question #92673. It explains that silicone is better than plastic in at least the regards of production emissions.
Beyond that, there are a few reasons why silicone is better than plastic (even if it isn't necessarily the 'perfect' alternative.):
Silicone is a LOT more durable and hardy than plastic. It can withstand most levels of heat and cold, common wear and tear, the microwave, the dishwasher, etc. way better than most plastic products can. This is why it is really great for replacing things like single-use plastics with reusable options (things like straws, sandwich/snack baggies, cupcake liners, Tupperware-like containers, and more!). When you throw away less, that means less production, which in itself is better for the environment.
Second, plastic is made using crude oil, which is a non-renewable resource. Silicone is made from silica, which (while not technically an infinite resource) is definitely more sustainable and abundant (it's basically sand. And there is a LOT of sand on this planet)... and better for the environment.
Also, silicone is recyclable. Currently, you almost always have to find a special location to recycle your silicone products, but that's not so bad, especially since they last for such a long time.
Now, silicone is NOT biodegradable, which makes it less than ideal in many respects to things like fabric, wood, paper, bamboo, etc. However, unlike plastic, silicone doesn't break down into tiny pieces over time, so you don't have to worry about microplastics like you would otherwise. Again, it's not the perfect alternative, but still better than plastic.
Hopefully that helps to answer your question.