We commonly see silica gel packets in packed foods and medicines, and we are very familiar with the label of its packaging “Do not eat”. Why do we always see this, do we know if it’s toxic or not? Is this silica gel bad for the environment?
What is silica gel?
Silica gel is a silicon compound that has long been used as a dehumidifier and adsorbent. It is non-toxic, tasteless, and does not react with other substances.
Therefore, it can be widely used in food industries such as sealed foods, preserved vegetables, and dried shrimp; chemical industries such as medicines; sealing plastic; mineral water, and so on.
Silica gel is not intentionally added to the food, it is added as silica packets or silica gel bags, to prevent moisture and prolong the shelf life of packaged foods, it was spread around the seal to form a ring when packed.
The moisture in the air will be absorbed by this silica gel ring; when wet silica gel becomes dry, its color will change from white to dark brown. When the silica gel has dried up, it is time for you to throw away the food.
See Related: Best Products to Help Climate Change
What are silica gel packets?
Silica packets are used in some food packaging to absorb moisture and prolong the shelf life of foods. A silica packet(such as “Do not eat”) contains small white objects on the package that are a type of desiccant, namely silica gel.
See Related: Best Clothing Companies that Plant Trees
How is silica gel made?
The production process is to react molten silicon with air and then vacuum drying. Then silica beads are made, these beads look like plastic microbeads. It can absorb up to 40 times its own weight in water, but it will not be toxic when the product is dried after being absorbed.
See Related: Best Conservation Posters
Is silica gel toxic to humans?
Although silica gel is non-toxic and tasteless, when it comes in contact with the skin or eyes, there will be a slight discomfort!
If you accidentally eat some, such as food that has been packaged for too long. Eating this product does not pose a risk to your life. But it may cause constipation and flatulence. Do not eat too much silica gel to avoid overdose!
The classification of silica gel is mainly divided into food grade and industrial grade, the former is harmless to health, while the latter is toxic or can cause burns in human tissue. Therefore, young children must be taught how to distinguish the two types of products.
See Related: Is Hydrated Silica Bad for the Environment?
Is silica gel safe for the environment?
Silica gel is not toxic, but when used in large quantities, it can cause environmental problems. The main problem with silica gel is that it absorbs water; this will make the soil dry and harden when absorbed, affecting plant growth. Since silica gel is not a fertilizer, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertilizers.
When silica gel absorbs water, it expands to 100 times its original size! Because of this feature, it is popularly used as a moisture absorber in the packaging industry. In addition, compared with other desiccants such as zeolite and activated alumina, silica gel is relatively non-toxic and environmentally friendly.
Therefore, the key to preventing environmental pollution caused by silica gel is to use it properly! The unused portion of the product should be discarded by local laws. It cannot be thrown into fire or may cause a secondary disaster!
In addition, to reduce the use of silica gel in our daily lives, we should also pay attention to whether there is excess moisture in our houses, before using silica gel to absorb the water vapor!
In short, if you have too much food packaged with silicone gel packets. You can give them away or throw them out for other people to use.
At the same time, try not to eat food that has been packaged with silicone gel packets for too long. Silicone gel is very useful for moisture absorption and prolonging the shelf life of foods; it can be used in industries such as medicine and packaging!
See Related: Why Should We Care About Climate Change?
Is silica gel biodegradable?
If it ends up in a landfill, then yes, but it would take a long time to break down. If it ends up in the sea or a river, no! It will cause water pollution.
See Related: Is Cardboard Biodegradable?
Is silica gel recyclable?
Silica gel is a kind of chemical, so it cannot be recycled. You can throw away the unused portion in a waste bin or bury it with other household waste to avoid pollution.
See Related: Ways Coffee Waste Can Be Recycled
Is silica gel flammable?
Yes, it is flammable. Silica gel is made of silicon dioxide and oxygen, so when heated to high temperatures it will react vigorously with the surrounding air and burn like a firecracker. It should never be disposed of in fire.
See Related: Best Conservation Books to Read
What is a good alternative to silica gel?
Zeolite is the most eco-friendly substitute for silica sachets. It is safer than food-grade silica gel and non-toxic, unlike industrial-grade ones that are used for desiccants.
See Related: Best Books on Pollution
Environmental tips in using and disposing of silica gel
- Do not eat the food that has been packaged with silica gel packets for too long.
- Do not throw away the unused portion of the product by burning it or throwing it into the fire, as this will cause air pollution; instead, you can bury it with other household waste.
- Rather than using more desiccants to prolong food shelf life, try to reduce moisture in the food packaging!
- Try to use other substitutes such as zeolite or activated alumina if you do not want to eat food packaged with silica gel for too long.
- Minimize the amount of waste that will end up in a landfill; try to reduce, reuse and recycle them instead.
- Do not throw silica gel containers in the pool or around trees, since it is easily blown away by wind and will cause water pollution.
- Try to minimize the use of desiccants in daily life; if necessary, make sure that they are disposed of properly after use!
- Silica gel is flammable and should never be disposed of in fire.
- Please check the local law on how to dispose of unused desiccants; you can usually find more information on your city or town government website.
- Do not throw it on soil because it can absorb water and can affect the growth of plants.
See Related: Types of Waste Disposal
Silica gel in general is non-toxic, biodegradable, and safe for the environment if it is used properly and disposed of responsibly. The environmental costs of this product lie in the incorrect and unresponsible disposal which results in pollution.
We can also make use of alternative materials like a Tupperware container for food shelf life to reduce waste.