Expert Advice

Are silica gel packets harmful to the environment?

Silica gel is often encased in packets which are not biodegradable.

Are silica gel packets harmful to the environment?
Pin it Matte Stephens

Silica is a natural drying agent that prevents mold and spoilage. It is not toxic to humans, pets or the environment, but its packaging is not biodegradable, so packets should be reused as often as possible.
What it is Silica is most commonly found in nature as sand or quartz. It is a naturally occurring mineral that is purified and processed into either granular or beaded form, which is then placed into the packets you find in food as well as other consumer products.
Why it’s there Silica gel’s high surface area allows it to absorb moisture readily, making it useful as a desiccant (drying agent)—which is important in many products in which excessive moisture could encourage spoilage and/or the growth of mold. Condensation may also damage Natural Healing items like electronics or speed the decomposition of chemicals, such as those in vitamins—but when silica gel packets are included in the packaging, these items can be preserved longer.
The disappointing downside Silica gel may be encased in packets made from cotton, but it most often comes in packets made from Tyvek, a high-density plastic material that protects the package and prevents it from tearing or breaking open. Tyvek’s tight pore structure keeps even the smallest of particulates from dusting through the package while still absorbing moisture outside it, but it is 100 percent polyethylene, which is not biodegradable.
Recycling options To keep these packets from ending up in a landfill, reuse them to help preserve things around your household: Put some in a box of old photos to keep them from getting moldy or in with silver jewelry or tableware to slow the tarnishing process, or tape a few to the inside lid of your pet food container to keep it fresh. — Mike Yudizky, public health education manager, North Texas Poison Center at Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas