Is aluminum biodegradable

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Occurrence of aluminum

Aluminum is the third most abundant element in the earth's crust and the most abundant metal. It is only rarely available as pure aluminum, but almost exclusively in bound form. Bauxite is the economically most important starting compound for aluminum production. The mining areas for bauxite are among others in Australia, China, Brazil, Indonesia, Russia, India, Jamaica, Australia, Brazil and Guinea.

Properties of aluminum

At room temperature, aluminum only reacts superficially with air and water and is therefore more resistant to corrosion. It has high strength but is lighter compared to steel. That is why it is preferred in the aerospace industry.

Aluminum is easy to work with and a good conductor of electricity and heat. That is why aluminum is found in electronic circuits, in saucepans and in food storage cans.

Environmental problems from mining to production

The mining of bauxite is a huge burden on the environment. Large areas are destroyed by mining, and 1.5 kg of iron-rich, alkaline red mud is produced per kg of aluminum oxide using the Bayer process.

This can hardly be recycled and is mostly just dumped. The danger of red mud comes from its high proportion of highly corrosive caustic soda and, in the long term, from its heavy metal components such as cadmium, arsenic, mercury, lead and chromium.

Energy guzzler primary aluminum

Primary aluminum is produced using an energy-intensive electrolysis process. To produce 1 kg of aluminum, between 13-20 kWh of electrical energy is required and 8-10 kg of CO2 are released. The energy requirement and CO2 emissions increase further through the transport and further processing of the raw aluminum.

Where aluminum occurs

Although aluminum is the third most abundant element in the earth's crust, it has no biological function. The reason for this lies in the solid chemical compounds that can hardly be dissolved under neutral conditions.

In acidic conditions, however, the aluminum is dissolved and thus enters the food cycle. The anthropogenic acidification of the soil and water can lead to an increased release of aluminum. The aluminum in the soil is transferred to plants and water.

Aluminum is not only found naturally, it is also found in food, packaging, cosmetics and medicines.

Aluminum in cosmetics

Aluminum is used in cosmetics as a dye, swelling agent, release agent, opacifier or stabilizer. Whether shampoo, nail polish, make-up, mascara, sunscreen, hair care products, toothpaste, deodorant or shower gels - aluminum is widely used in the cosmetics industry.

Aluminum chloride and aluminum chlor (o) hydrate are used in deodorants and antiperspirants because of their antiperspirant effect. They block the sweat glands, which reduces the amount of sweat and their antibacterial effect also minimizes the formation of odors. Aluminum can penetrate the skin, especially if the skin is cracked or has small wounds.

wir-leben-nachhaltig.at: Deodorant and antiperspirant

Aluminum in pharmaceuticals

Antacids are used to treat stomach upset and heartburn. These can contain aluminum compounds and, with prolonged and regular use, lead to an accumulation of aluminum in organs and bones. Since aluminum can be transmitted to the fetus and heartburn is more common during pregnancy, antacids containing aluminum should be avoided during this time.

Aluminum in drinking water

Aluminum is hardly found or in very low concentrations in natural groundwater. Aluminum compounds in drinking water mostly originate from drinking water treatment, since aluminum is used as a precipitant for organic compounds. However, this procedure is not used in Austria.

Aluminum in food

Spices, herbs, vegetables, legumes, mushrooms, milk and grain products, juices, cocoa or tea can contain aluminum. The aluminum content in food comes mainly from the aluminum contamination of plants, water and the environment. As an element of the earth, aluminum is naturally found in plants and in drinking water. Some plants absorb more aluminum from the environment than others.

However, only very small amounts of aluminum come from natural sources. The largest share is attributable to additives and packaging containing aluminum.

Aluminum in food additives

Aluminum is used in dyes, color lacquers, as stabilizers, leavening agents, release agents or as a carrier. Aluminum is added to colorings that are used for fine baked goods and as coatings for sugar confectionery to decorate cakes. E 520 (aluminum sulfate), E 521 (aluminum sodium sulfate), E 522 (aluminum potassium sulfate) or E 523 (aluminum ammonium sulfate) are used for candied fruit and vegetables used.

Aluminum lacquers are insoluble in water and are well suited for coloring foods where water-soluble coloring agents cannot be used. E 100 (curcumin), E 102 (tartrazine), E 104 (quinoline yellow) or E 122 (azorubine) are some examples of E numbers that include aluminum lacquers.

A list of dyes that may be used in the form of aluminum paints can be found in the BMG study on page 32: "Aluminum - toxicology and health aspects of body-related applications"

Since 2012 there has been an EU regulation that limits the use of aluminum in food additives or reduces the maximum amount. Some additives containing aluminum have been removed from the list of permitted food additives.

Aluminum in packaging

Aluminum is very widely used as a packaging material. Not only as beverage cans, but also in tubes for food, cosmetics or adhesives, as lids for dairy products, as composite material for beverage cartons and coffee packaging, as containers for ready meals, as packaging for medicines or as an addition to PET bottles. Aluminum foil can be found in almost every household and capsule machines for coffee are now in many kitchens.

Sour foods, salty foods and foods such as tomatoes, rhubarb, lemons, oranges or apples should not be stored in aluminum packaging or wrapped in aluminum foil. The aluminum can migrate from damaged packaging into the food.

Aluminum as a trigger for breast cancer and Alzheimer's not yet proven

Aluminum is suspected of being involved in metabolic diseases and in diseases of the central nervous system such as Alzheimer's. The accumulation of aluminum in the brains of deceased Alzheimer's patients suggests a connection.

"A direct and sole causal connection between aluminum exposure and Alzheimer's dementia is not likely, but aluminum may be an important cofactor that promotes the development of this disease. For this reason, taking the precautionary principle into account, numerous experts advocate total exposure with aluminum as much as possible. " (Study: Aluminum - toxicology and health aspects of body-related applications, Federal Ministry of Health, 2014)

A connection between the development of breast cancer and the uptake of aluminum has not yet been established by scientific studies. Further investigations are necessary in order to be able to make a well-founded statement.

Despite the unclear data situation, the Federal Ministry of Health and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommend reducing the consumption of aluminum. The Federal Ministry of Health recommends the following measures to reduce aluminum

  • Do not prepare or store acidic foods in aluminum foil or uncoated aluminum containers.
  • Regularly inspect aluminum drinking bottles for scratches. Do not use bottles if they are damaged.
  • Use deodorants and antiperspirants without aluminum. Do not apply aluminum-containing deodorants and antiperspirants immediately after shaving and on injured skin.
  • Ask your doctor about alternatives to aluminum-free antacids.

Aluminum is 100% recyclable

Aluminum recycling is "real" recycling because the aluminum retains its properties even after any number of cycles. When recycling aluminum, only 5% of the amount of energy used in primary production is required.

The Europe-wide recycling rate of aluminum is 67%. The recycling rate of aluminum in the construction sector is 96% in Austria and around 60% in the household sector. In Austria, 16,000 tons of aluminum end up in the household waste - from aluminum foil to grill cups to beverage cans. Is there a predominant part of the packaging, i. H. to more than 50%, made of aluminum, it can be subjected to a remelting process. The recycling of aluminum from household waste, however, currently hardly plays a role.

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we-live-sustainably: deodorant and antiperspirant

Federal Ministry for Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection, Study Aluminum