In 2021, global silicon production amounted to over 8.5 million tons. From phone covers and cooking utensils all the way to insulation material, healthcare equipment, construction, and even transportation – silicone has potentially limitless uses. It is one of the most versatile materials known to us after plastics.
Because of this versatility, it is now being actively preferred by many. By 2026, its production is expected to rise to over 12.5 million tons. However, the environmental concerns linked to silicone also continue to rise. While silicone is NOT biodegradable, it is recyclable. But how is silicone recycled properly?
It needs to go to specialized recycling centers. In this article, we will consider the process of silicone recycling and why it is important to do so. We will also consider the overall impact of recycling silicone on improved sustainability and the profitability of your organization. Is it really beneficial?
What is Silicone?
Silicone is a synthetic material composed of the element silicon, oxygen, and other components. It is an elastomeric polymer that has very low toxicity levels and can withstand high temperatures. Its unique properties have made it popular in many industries and households alike.
You can find silicone in:
- Medical equipment
- Healthcare equipment,
- Automotive parts,
- Construction materials,
- Aeronautic engineering,
- Personal care products, as well as
- A wide range of other applications.
Over time, these uses are becoming much more streamlined. You may even have a silicone phone cover or silicone cookware at home, especially for nonstick pans! If nothing else, you will surely have silicone caulk installed around windows, sinks, and more.
Some of the more common forms of silicones include:
- Silicone rubber (most common)
- Silicone sealant/caulk
- Silicone resin
- Silicone grease
- Silicone oil
This is NOT an extensive list, though. The versatility in terms of color, usage, and generally extended life, and lightweight nature; all combine to give the material its allure.
How Is Silicone Recycled?
The recycling process for silicone starts with sorting the material based on its type – plastic or metal recycling. If the silicone is a plastic item, it must be manually separated from non-plastic materials such as paper, glass, or metal.
Then, it is shredded into small pieces using mechanical grinders so machines can further process it. The resulting pieces are then heated until they melt into pellets which are used to create new products.
It is important to note that the recyclers first sort the silicone based on size and type as well. Silicone may be in various shapes, as discussed above, and may release different chemicals based on how they are prepared.
The sorting is also done based on color to make the coloring process easier at the end.
Melting It All Down
Another way of recycling silicone is to melt it down. The used silicone is added into a large vat which is then heated up to create molten silicone. This also releases a lot of toxic gas, which is why this is not the preferred method for many.
The larger the piece is, the more energy it will consume to melt up. Once all the silicone has been melted down, the recycler adds a color – or a color removing chemical – based on what the silicone is being recycled into. Turning recycled silicone transparent is usually trickery, though.
Once the color is removed, all impurities are removed either chemically or via straining. Straining is usually easier and involves the molten silicone either being sifted within the vat or simply when being transferred for pouring.
After a quality control test, it is then cast into new shapes. The resulting material can be used to create new components or parts for various applications, such as automotive and machinery manufacturers.
Usually, a blend of these two methods are used, i.e., the silicone material is first shredded down into smaller chunks. This makes them easier to handle as well as allows for easier melting. Then, it is melted, discolored or colored, purified, and cast.
Another way to recycle silicone involves the use of chemical compounds. This process involves breaking down the silicone into its component molecules and then re-forming them into new polymers or products through a process called devulcanization.
Trimethylaluminum and AlCl3 are the most common chemicals used for recycling silicone. These chemicals act as catalysts and help break down the silicone molecules, allowing them to be re-shaped into something new.
Benefits of Silicone Recycling
Recycling silicone has both environmental and economic benefits. On the environmental side, it helps reduce waste, conserve resources, and prevent pollution from entering our ecosystem. It also decreases the dependence on natural resources like petroleum which are finite and increasingly difficult to obtain in today’s world.
On the economic side, it leads to cost savings as companies don’t need to purchase as much new material for production purposes. It also creates new jobs in the recycling industry.
Other key benefits that recycling silicone offers include, but aren’t limited to:
- Improved sustainability across the board,
- Reduced production costs (particularly material costs),
- Increased profitability,
- Enhanced customer satisfaction and public overview,
- Reduced environmental impact, and more.
Recycling silicone is important in ensuring environmental sustainability and economic gain for organizations. Through proper sorting, shredding, and melting down of materials, we can ensure that these materials get reused and do not end up in landfills or pollute our environment.
Companies like RECAPP are known for their environmentally friendly metal, plastic, electronics, and other material recycling. We not only offer door-to-door pickup but also let you track your materials to keep you informed of the entire process and the overall value you can expect from the process. Check out the services and recycling materials we have to offer today!