Silicone cookware and the environment

I received an email a few days ago from a reader asking about the environmental implications of silicone cookware and as I’ve never really delved into the topic, it was a good opportunity for me to research and learn a little more about these products!

Silicone cookware is gaining popularity as an alternative to teflon coated baking trays and other kitchen utensils. The major problem with teflon is Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), a toxic chemical which doesn’t ever break down. Increasing amounts of  this substance are building up in our environment, in food chains – and ourselves. You can read more about the issue in my article on poisonous non-stick cookware.

Silicone cookware – how it’s made

Silicone is a type of synthetic rubber created from bonded silicon and oxygen. Silicon is a very common natural element found in sand and rock – it makes up 28% of the earth’s crust.

Heat is applied to set the silicone; firstly at the point of manufacture, then followed by a lengthy post-cure process. It can also be injection molded.

Advantages of silicone cookware

– Silicone coatings are resistant to extremes in temperatures; from -40°C to +300°C (-40°F to 446°F) . This makes silicone cookware suitable for fridge to stovetop/microwave to freezer and can help reduce the need for plastic wrap and foil.

– Silicone rubber does not react with food, liquids and most chemicals, or offgas hazardous fumes over its life and while in use.

– It’s stain resistant

– It’s very flexible (could also be a disadvantage – hot trays flopping around)

– Cools quickly

– Doesn’t hold odors from food

– Lightweight

– Recyclable

– Non-toxic to aquatic life and soil organisms

Disadvantage of silicone cookware

– It’s usually more expensive than other types of cookware items

– Some lower quality silicone coatings contain filler that may be hazardous

– It’s reasonably new, so long term studies haven’t been performed on cookware that has been exposed to high temperatures over very long periods.

– I have read reports that it’s not as non-stick as manufacturers would like us to believe

– It’s not readily biodegradble

The major environmental impacts associated with silicone would be the mining of silicon and the energy used to create the products; but that also applies to metals used in cookware; so in a choice between Teflon coated and silicone cookware; the latter seems to be the more environmentally friendly option.

The filler issue mentioned is an important one as the filler could be made of anything. If you’re set on buying silicone cookware, check with the manufacturer regarding this. To test for filler yourself, one suggestion I came across on a few sites was to twist the item and if white shows up on the bend, the piece likely contains filler.

Have questions or some extra information you’d like to share about silicone cookware? Please post your comments below!