Did you ever ponder why certain things, like purses, footwear, or even foodstuff, come with tiny small packets marked “Throw Away” and “Do Not Eat”? When you notice these tiny packets in a shoe box or at the bottom of your bag, they may appear bothersome or unnecessary. But, they genuinely have a useful function and can be recycled!
These tiny packets are filled with silica gel, which can eliminate moisture and dampness in confined spaces. These sachets are generally found in items like food, shoes, and clothing that could be harmed by an excessive amount of moisture or humidity.
Silica gel chemical composition
In a nutshell, silica gel is primarily a dry substance that captures and stores water vapor, despite what its label might imply. Silica gel is frequently found in “bead” form. Now, because the beads are enclosed in a porous packet, they can effectively retain moisture from the surrounding air. The sachets are constructed of sodium silicate, a highly porous material that can soak up to 40% of its own mass and is also particularly effective at absorbing moisture.
A colloidal silicon dioxide (SiO2) form known as silica gel is created by partially dehydrating metasilicic acid (H2O3Si).
Is silica gel biodegradable?
Silica gel can degrade in nature slowly, but it is not biodegradable. Although silica gel is non-toxic, the packets generally comprise substances that don’t decompose over a certain period.
However, it takes considerable time to decompose if it ends up in a landfill. If it splashes into a river or the sea, it will not degrade; instead, it contaminates the water.
How long does it take for silica gel to break down in nature?
Because it is SiO2 in hydrated form, silica gel cannot biodegrade. Another reason is that it is entirely inorganic. SiO2’s sturdy composition with covalent bonds between S and O generally requires eons to degrade.
All in all, a biodegradable component must, at its core, be sustenance for a further biological (alive) organism. In the case of SiO2, it is impossible.
Despite being a dry solid and non-toxic, these silica gel pouches contain substances that do not disintegrate over time any sooner.
Can we add silica gel to the compost pile?
By now, you must be aware of silicon dioxide. A type of sand known as silica gel desiccant can soak up to 40% of its bulk in the water and is employed in indicating and non-indicating contexts. Given that cobalt is hazardous, utmost care must be taken to prevent dealing with food, and this is because cobalt induces the crystals in silica gel to change color when moisture is consumed.
According to EEC Directive 91/689/EEC, silica gel is not categorized as hazardous waste. As per this, it implies that there is no danger of contamination while adding silica gel to a compost pile. Even though the crystals will not dissolve and will not fundamentally alter the soil constitution, soil already includes silicas by nature.
Is silica gel toxic to the environment?
- Although silica gel is not poisonous, over usage of it can have adverse effects on the environment. The biggest issue with silica gel is that it absorbs moisture.
- If we talk about the environment and trees, soaking moisture causes the soil to dry up and become harder. As a result, it hinders plant growth. Hence, note that silica gel cannot be utilized in place of fertilizers because it is not a fertilizer.
- Silica gel is an odorless material, and it can absorb moisture naturally. Hence, it is employed as a desiccant to prevent goods from going bad, molding, or deteriorating due to humidity.
- The gel, which resembles white crystals or tapioca beads, is a type of silicon dioxide, which is also present in sand and quartz in nature. Although it is non-toxic by itself, it may become poisonous when mixed with specific solvents or compounds.
- Silica gel grows to 100 times its initial size when it absorbs moisture, and this characteristic makes it a common moisture absorbent in the packaging sector. However, on the contrary, silica gel is mainly non-toxic and environmentally benign when compared to other desiccants like zeolite and activated alumina.
- Therefore, using silica gel properly is essential to avoiding environmental harm caused by it. Local regulations should mandate that the product’s excess half be thrown away. It cannot just be burned with fire, which could result in another catastrophe!
- Additionally, before using silica gel to soak the water vapor in homes, it is necessary to consider if there is an excess of dampness to decrease silica gel usage in the regular lifestyle!
- Alongside, attempt to avoid consuming foodstuff stored in silicone gel packet packaging for an extended time. Silicone gel has several applications in the packaging and medical fields, including absorbing moisture and extending food shelf life. However, it can cause adverse health complications in humans.
- Moreover, you’ve probably put these in the trashcan a dozen times without giving them a second thought. But, after the little bags are disposed of in landfills and, regrettably, poured into the oceans, there is a strong potential that marine life will unintentionally eat them. This way, you are harming the environment indirectly.
- It is not suggested to release this substance into the ecosystem where wildlife can come into touch with it. Silica gel can irritate people’s respiratory tract, digestive tract, skin, and eyes. In addition, dust from the pellets may irritate the skin and eyes.
Is it safe to reuse silica gel?
The FDA has designated silica gel as a GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) substance. The Carolinas Poison Center claims that Silica gel is non-toxic, which means that ingesting it won’t get you sick.
Given that it is not food and poses a choking risk, the product’s packaging clearly states, “DO NOT EAT.” Small children or animals may choke on the entire packet, granules, or beads.
Moreover, cobalt chloride is mixed with silica gel beads (white) to indicate (blue to pink). It is known that cobalt chloride causes cancer. Hence, it is not advised to use blue signaling beads for food.
Now, when it comes to reusing, silica gel is great. Repurposing them in the appropriate application is safe, and you may reuse these packets for different purposes.
How to reuse silica gel?
You might be startled to hear that silica gel can be recycled repeatedly without compromising its absorption power! Once it has completely absorbed the water, it can be heated to cause the evaporation of the water. What a waste it will be to discard it simply!
Here is a list of circumstances where you can reuse these tiny practical packs.
- Dry a wet smartphone
- Reusable fruit and veg bags
- Prevent rust on razor blades
- Storing shoes to avoid fungal/bacterial growth
- To keep makeup bags and Gym bags dry and fresh
- Jewelry boxes to keep them shiny
- Storing important documents and old photographs
- Toolboxes to prevent rust
- Prevent seeds from early mold/sprouting
Wrapping It Up
Silica gel is generally non-toxic, degradable, and harmless to the environment if used appropriately and dealt with properly. This product’s inappropriate and irresponsible disposal, which pollutes the environment, is the source of its environmental implications. If this can be taken into control, silica gel will not cause much harm to the environment.