Silicone has become increasingly popular over recent years due to its many advantages over other materials – plastic in particular. And with good reason. It’s amazingly versatile, chemically inert and highly durable, meaning that many of the jobs that single use plastic has been traditionally used for can now be used, then reused, by a silicone substitute. Let’s take a quick look at this material and see what it is and how we best use silicone products for camping and glamping.
Where Does Silicone Come From?
Silicone is a synthetic compound that is derived from the element, Silicon (no ‘e’). Most usable silicon is derived from silica and various silicates, found in sand and rocks in the Earth’s crust – in massive abundance too, comprising almost 28% of the crust by mass.
Silicon is similar to carbon with respect to its ability to be formed into long molecular chains with both other silicon atoms and many other elements, in order to achieve different means. Carbon is the base element in both natural gas and crude oil, which themselves form the base of plastics. Silicon has very different characteristics though, bonding with different elements and requiring less chemical additives, and so the long chain creations can have very different applications.
Is Silicone Eco-Friendly?
Silicone is, on the whole, eco-friendly product, albeit mined in the first place. It's non-toxic, it doesn’t pollute the atmosphere or ruin the ozone layer.
However, we need to ensure that we only use it in products that are non-disposable, as silicone does not biodegrade. Also, there are very few silicone recycling programs available, which adds to this downside, as it is actually quite recyclable. These facts make end of life considerations really important to your initial purchase decision. Like everything, overconsumption is bad, and silicone products are no different, so we should only buy them when we really need them.
However, whereas plastic breaks up into micro-plastics - polluting and poisoning huge scale ecologies as it slowly breaks down over hundreds or thousands of years and bioaccumulating inside organisms’ bodies, including ours - silicone does NOT do that, which is an obvious and huge positive, notwithstanding its current low recyclability rates.
So why do we use silicone? One of the most appealing advantages is that it’s inert and so it does not interact with other materials or chemically leach. And unlike plastic, there is such a thing as true food grade safety, because food grade silicone is free of BPA, BPS, latex and other chemical additives, making it safer than plastic, particularly when surfaces are broken.
Silicone is also resistant to chemicals, oils, UV light, and further resists staining and fading. Additionally, it’s extremely durable and can withstand very high and very low temperatures and without compromising its chemical or physical integrity.
Yet another advantage of silicone is that it’s smooth. It’s non-stick and doesn't hold onto dirt and grime, aiding its resistance to mould and mildew.
Finally, silicone is very malleable and versatile – it’s available in a variety of colours, and can be made into hard, solid products or flexible, rubbery materials, making it ideal for a range of applications.
Silicone in Camping and Road Trip Gear
So, the qualities listed above make silicone extremely handy and adaptable to a wide range of products, and is an especially important alternative to plastic in non-disposable (or even disposable) products.
Silicone has pretty much universally been adopted by many hiking companies for both cutlery and bowls sets. The lightweight aspect, as well as the flexibility to form folds make collapsibility a very useful feature.
When using silicone products for camping and glamping or road trip situations however, we can afford a little extra space than a hiker can, so we normally go a little more expansive in size and options. But, we still want to retain lightness, convenience, great use of space, as well as easy clean up and durability - we can just go a little nicer in the first place.
Silicone Collapsible Buckets
Large Collapsible buckets are used for your washing up station as they’re low profile and easily storable when not in use. Suited for camping, we’ve only really seen these being made with as much plastic parts as silicone, which is weird and a bit of a downer, as they could just as easily be made with all-silicone! But they are very useful to have, with the characteristic flexibility of the silicone the big point with this product.
Silicone Cookware Utensils
Cookware utensils are now well represented by silicone options. We see silicone a lot in campervan set ups in all kinds of cookware, from bowls to utensils, ice trays, oven gloves, food trays and more. These are available in Coles or Woolies or just about anywhere else these days, although be aware that even these often have a plastic core for firmness, instead of either silicone or metal.
Silicone Food Storage
There is also a big push into silicone food storage too, due to its non-toxic, temperature-proof and food-grade qualities. There are flexible and non-flexible containers, so either one will likely fit your needs.
Silicone Stackable Containers
Stackable, collapsible silicone containers are similar in design to the washing up buckets above, but have an air-tight, leak-proof lid and come in a range of sizes that are meal sized. These are really handy, whether at home or on the road as the collapsibility in size is always a welcome space saver. These are also produced in combination with plastic however, as plastic is used in the lids for some reason!
Silicone Food Bags and Pouches
The flexible silicone food bags and pouches are also a very handy option, although they’re more like a Ziplock bag than a lunch box, so meals can be a bit trickier out of these. But they are flexible, so can pack down to the size of your food inside it, rather than being a set size. They’re extremely portable and easy to store, as well as being totally leak proof, freezer safe and easy to clean, so we’ve taken at least a few of these along on many adventures. You can grab these from our store here.
Silicone Bento Lunch Boxes
Bento lunch box containers have options with or without preinstalled compartments, so different foods don’t spoil into each other. These can also be used as your actual dinner or lunch bowl, as they’re a good size, and any leftovers can literally just be left in your bowl, and with watertight lid put on, thrown into the fridge or eski for later.
Silicone Food Wraps
We also use silicone food wraps instead of disposable plastic wrap, which come as square sheets. We can honestly say that this is one of the most satisfying plastic substitutes we know of! They do exactly what they are supposed to, they’re tough and durable, and the knowledge that we don’t have to throw away a little crushed up ball of dirty plastic into landfill every few days or so, is absolutely wonderful. These are also available in our store here.
Still talking about these silicone food wraps, silicone in this form can also be used as an alternative to baking paper in a hot oven. A word of warning, though, don’t expose the food wraps to fire as they’re NOT fireproof!
Silicone Bowl Covers
Silicone food wraps are also available in pre-moulded variously sized, round shapes with defined deep sides to fit snugly over edges of round cups, bowls or even pieces of fruit or vegies etc. These are extremely convenient as they do easily form a great air-tight fit but lack the versatility of the straight sheet food wrap.
All of these food grade wraps, bags, pouches and containers are now super popular, and, because we can happily vouch for each one, we also offer these in our store, which you can check out below.
stemm Silicone Wine Glasses
One of the classiest uses for silicone we see (and very gratefully use) are unbreakable silicone wine glasses. These are made to be flexible, which means that they’re very easily portable and durable. They don’t hold your strong red or white flavours in the silicone and are really easy to clean. Also, if you drop it, there won’t be any glass anywhere around your floor, tent site or picnic area - very nice advantage.
We very proudly sell these classy wine glasses in our store here. These also couple with similarly made silicone tumblers for your stiffer drinks, or sparkling water if you’re the designated driver. The tumblers can double as handle-free mugs for a cuppa as well. You can check these out here too.
The uptake of silicone is still only in its infancy with respect to the products that can be made to replace less environmentally friendly or camp friendly options.
It often seems that the only reason many companies are actually even using silicone is for its physical characteristics - they don't seem to even have the first thought about the environmental benefit. This may be why so many products are still a mix of silicone and plastic when silicone by itself can do the job. It's also very disappointing.
Overall, silicone is an extremely versatile material with a heap of benefits that make it ideal for use in the home, on a short or long road trip or camping environment. Hopefully, in lieu of a new totally biodegradable or recyclable product, the silicone industry will gain even more traction into the other areas that plastic in particular still holds sway.