As consumers become more wary of the chemicals they’re putting into their bodies, more and more research is coming out about the potential health risks of plastic and plastic alternatives.
Silicones have become enormously popular in recent years and are constantly marketed as safe replacements for traditional plastics. We see them everywhere—baby bottle nipples, kitchen utensils, toys, mugs, cake form , seals on bottles and containers. They’re even proudly used in baking sheets and muffin trays that will be subjected to high temperatures for the oven and ice cube molds destined for the freezer.
You’ll also find silicones used in cosmetics and various personal care products to make them soft and smooth. In more industrial contexts, they are commonly used for insulation, sealants, adhesives, lubricants, gaskets, filters, medical applications (e.g., tubing), and casing for electrical component.
Why Choose Silicone Instead of Plastic?
- Silicone is indisputably safer for human health than plastic, which is a petroleum-based material commonly containing estrogen-mimicking chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA). Furthermore, when it comes to the environment, silicone is highly durable and more environmentally friendly than plastic.
- Silicone is much longer lasting than plastic and endures extreme fluctuations in temperatures – from very cold to oven hot – without melting, cracking or otherwise degrading. Reusable plastic containers may last a year or a few years if they are hand washed, but they end up getting scratched, foggy, broken and needing to be retired from use much sooner than similar items made from silicone.
- Silicone resists oxidative deterioration (normal aging) for decades on end. In fact, studies have shown that silicones thrive on challenges, including exposure to extreme heat and cold, harsh chemicals, sterilization, rain, snow, salt spray, ultraviolet radiation, ozone, and acid rain, to name a few. If disposed of at a landfill for incineration, the silicone (unlike plastic) is converted back into inorganic, harmless ingredients: amorphous silica, carbon dioxide, and water vapor.
Are silicones plastic?
Silicones are something of a hybrid between synthetic rubbers and synthetic plastic polymers. They can take on different forms and be used to make malleable rubberlike items, hard plastic like resins, and thick spreadable fluids.
We treat silicones as plastics like any other, given that they have plasticlike properties: flexibility, malleability, clarity, temperature resistance, and water resistance. Like plastic, they can be shaped or formed and softened or hardened into practically anything. Since they’re easy to clean, nonstick, and nonstaining, they’re popular for cookware and kitchen utensils, too.
Many experts and authorities consider silicones to be nontoxic and safe for contact with food and drink. For example, Health Canada states: “There are no known health hazards associated with use of silicone cookware. Silicone rubber does not react with food or beverages, or produce any hazardous fumes.”
Consumer advocate and toxin-free living expert Debra Lynn Dadd takes a cautious view toward silicones and continues to assess new research, but she is not willing to give up her silicone cookware just yet, as she considers it safer than nonstick alternatives with perfluorinated chemical coatings.
Reasons to Ditch Plastic Cooking Utensils
They Don’t Last Long. Those black nylon plastic cooking utensils chip, shred with use. That damage from everyday use allows toxins to enter your food. Remember, they’re heat resistant to 400 degrees, not heat proof. They will melt with extended contact with a hot pan.
“BPA-Free” is a BS Label. BPA-free does not mean safe. Most of the time when companies are touting “BPA-Free” they have just replaced BPA with a similar chemical. Bisphenol-A (BPA) has been replaced by bisphenol-S (BPS), which independent scientists are warning is just as bad or perhaps worse than BPA. The reason is BPS isn’t that much different from BPA. It’s a sister chemical, part of the same family of bisphenols and all are rotten. We refer to the bisphenol family of chemicals as the “bitchy bisphenols” because they are all rotten. BPS disrupts cell function in the same ways that BPA does, leading to obesity, hormone disruption, and even cancer. That means that plastic cooking utensils labeled “BPA-free” are not necessarily safe.
Several Organizations Have Asked The FDA To Remove Phthalates From Anything Touching Food. Several organizations, including the Breast Cancer Fund, The Center for Food Safety and The Center For Environmental Safety, are pressuring the FDA to rule against phthalate use in any products. For example, plastics which have contact with food, including food storage and plastic cooking utensils. Right now, only certain phthalates are banned from use in children’s products used by ages 12 and under. Not only are Phthalates are linked to asthma, but also to developmental disabilities, obesity, cancer and more.
They Contain Traces of Flame Retardants & Heavy Metals. Plastic cooking utensils, especially ones made of black, are made with recycled computer parts that have been treated with flame retardants. Companies are (possibly unknowingly) risking your health in an effort to reuse plastic. It’s a noble yet foolish issue when you consider what is leaching out of the plastic when you are heating it with use. Earlier this year researchers discovered something very sinister coming out of plastics. After testing 129 black plastic items used in contact with food & beverage, they found the presence of brominated flame retardants, chlorine, PVC, cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, and antimony. Most of these substances are not safe for human consumption, even at small levels. Additional things tested included plastic cooking utensils and coffee mugs. These chemicals have been found in blood and breast milk samples. Presently the EPA has labeled one of these chemicals, decaBDE, as a possible human carcinogen.
They Pollute The Environment. 8 MILLION tons of plastic end up in the oceans, and the number is growing. This trash is accumulating in vortexes in ocean currents and has created large garbage patches. Lamentably, few companies recycle plastic cooking utensils, so those utensils are feeding the plastic pollution problem.
Their Production Poisons Us. One of the main chemicals formed in the manufacturing of household plastics is benzene. Benzene contains a mix of chemicals, including dangerous phthalates. Benzene is also a known carcinogen. Unfortunately, rates of non-Hodkin lymphoma are higher around factories that release benzene.
Spend a Little More to Get a LOT More. Plastic cooking utensils tend to be cheaper, but also damage more easily. Why not pay a little more for a safer option – silicone, stainless steel or wood – which has a longer life? You may also save some money on your health.
Other Utensils are Safe To Use. Other utensils are just as safe when cooking meat. Wooden spoons are safe to use – even with chicken! Just wash them well afterward. You can season them, and, if properly cleaned and air dried, they will last years. For instance, bamboo is a renewable resource and makes a great utensil.
They Can Be Hard To Clean. Plastic cooking utensils can be hard to clean, especially if the plastic on the end has broken down with wear and heat. Scrubbing can also cause more wear on a spatula with a worn end. As a result, rough edges and handles with mixed components can be a bacteria risk.
Manufacturers Cover Up Their Dangerous Chemical Pollution History. Companies who make the plastics pollute the environment, including water sources for cities and agriculture. Many chemicals are dumped into the environment, most notably PFOA, making their way into our bodies. Unfortunately, these PFC chemicals persist in the environment without signs of breaking down. Meanwhile, companies are strategizing against worker claims and have hidden decades of research showing that low-dose exposure is dangerous.
What About BPA-free Plastic?
The long and short of it was clear: plastics are petroleum-based products and manufacturers add chemicals (like BPA and similar) to create various functionalities. For the squeezy plastics, phthalates are often added. The rigid plastics typically contain the BPA. The plastics manufacturers aren’t forthcoming about what chemicals they add and it’s hard to test for chemicals unless you know which chemical or mineral you are looking for.
Testing plastics is kind of a cat and mouse game. For example, now that consumers are demanding BPA-free plastics, and some regulations are in place requiring plastics be BPA-free in the USA, Canada, and Europe, there’s a wave of BPA-free labeling going on. In the place of BPA, however, manufacturers have sought out alternate chemicals to achieve the functionality they need in their plastic materials. One of these chemicals, which scientists are finding is even more toxic than BPA, is called bisphenol-S (BPS).