Description: Aluminum (chemical symbol: Al) is the most abundant metal in the Earth's crust, but has no known biological function; i.e., it is not used and metabolized by living organisms in its naturally-occurring forms. While it is very chemically reactive, it is not found in nature as pure aluminum. It is found combined with other elements, and in the metal form it is usually mined from bauxite.
Properties: silvery grey colour (depending on surface roughness), low density, soft, durable, lightweight, corrosion-resistant, reflective, thermal and electrial conductor,
Typical Use: Used to make beverage cans, pots and pans, airplanes, siding and roofing, and aluminum foil. It is found in various consumer products including: antacids, astringents, buffered aspirin, food additives, deodorants/anti-perspirants, cosmetics, and in some vaccines. Aluminum compounds are used in water treatment, abrasives, and furncae linings. Powdered aluminum metal is used in explosives and fireworks. (AL1)
Toxicity: We are all widely exposed to aluminum on a daily basis from the natural environment, so one should not be alarmed by any aluminum exposure at all. Nonetheless, more acute aluminum exposure has been shown to be toxic to plants and animals, including humans. And there is increasing evidence and testimonials about the prevalence and dangers of aluminum poisoning, which can be detected through hair analysis. (AL2, AL3)
Some of the documented adverse human health effects that can result from aluminum exposure include: neurotoxicity due altered function of the blood-brain barrier; dialysis encephalopathy, osteomalacia and microcytic anemia; impaired neurologic development in infants.
Aluminum has been linked to Alzheimers disease by some researchers, though there is some controversy about this. The balance of research indicates that there is a link between Aluminum and Alzheimers. We prefer to assume that aluminum is contributing to the development of Alzheimers disease, given that aluminum is clearly an established neurotoxin. (AL4, AL5, AL6)
Aluminum is used in many mainstream deodorants/anti-perspirants. Exposure to anti-perspirants with aluminum has been linked to an increase in the amount of aluminum in the body as well as links to breast cancer.
Aluminium has been shown to be a "metalloestrogen" in studies done with human breast cancer cells. It is capable of binding to cellular estrogen receptors and then mimicking the actions of physiological estrogens. Thus, there are multiple links between breast cancer and aluminum.
Recycling Rate: Like stainless steel, aluminum can be recycled with 100% integrity, thus retaining its original properties. In the industry, however, recycled aluminum is considered secondary aluminum. Aluminum recycling is now most common for beverage cans, automative parts and construction materials. In 2012 in the US, approximately 55 percent of aluminum beer and soft drink cans were recycled (about 0.7 million tons).
Alternatives: It is now relatively easy to find personal care products - deodorants & cosmetics - with no aluminum, though you may need to go to a natural products store or store section. Stainless steel and glass are excellent non-toxic alternatives to aluminum for food containers, cookware, and water containers, and we offer various options.
Our Suggestion: AVOID. As it is a naturally occurring element it cannot be avoided completely, but there is no need to increase your aluminum exposure through the use of aluminum-containing consumer products (aluminum foil, canned drinks), kitchenware and bottles.
Description: Cast iron is essentially pure iron (chemical symbol: Fe) that has been heated and then poured into a mold to create a particular form. Carbon and silicone are key alloying elements that are added to the pure iron to increase its strength and malleability in the formation of cast iron. It is a common material for industrial machinery and parts, as well as for frying pans.
Properties: malleable, rust-resistant (as long as it is seasoned), easily formed, resistant to deformation and wear.
Typical Use: Cookware, hardware such as hinges and latches, structural connectors in buildings and monuments, tools and utensils, stoves and firebacks, piping, machinery, tools. (CI1)
Toxicity: Cast iron cookware will release iron into the food being prepared, but this is not necessarily a bad thing (only if you have an iron allergy or suffer from hemochromatosis). In fact, the use of cast iron cookware is considered a safe way to maintain and increase ones dietary iron intake, and is even considered a way of reducing iron deficiency and iron deficiency anaemia. The amount of iron released from cast iron cookware will depend on the food, its acidity and water content, how long it was cooked and how old the cookware is. More will be released from newer cookware used to cook acidic food, such as apple and tomato sauces.
Iron is an essential nutrient for all the cells in our body as its primary function is to help transport oxygen through hemoglobin in the blood and myoglobin in muscles. To function well, your body needs just the right amount of iron, which depends on your age and gender. A lack of iron in red blood cells leads to iron deficiency or anemia. Conversely, too much iron can lead to a dangerous condition called iron toxicity. Children under age six are particularly susceptible to iron toxicity, and symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, and hemorrhaging. Thus, it is advisable to avoid cooking foods for young children in iron pots.
For more information on cooking with cast iron cookware, take a look at this overview by Columbia University's "Go Ask Alice" health Q&A service.
Recycling Rate: Like stainless steel (which is also primarily iron-based), cast iron is 100% recyclable, and indefinitely so without loss of quality or properties. It is one of the less damaging metals to both make and recycle, because of its relatively low melting temperature. Check your area for a suitable recycling depot to ensure it is recycled properly.
Alternatives: If cooking for young children (six and under), it is advisable to use something other than cast iron, such as stainless steel, glass or ceramic. We offer a couple of frying pan options here.
Our Suggestion: SAFE, but use sparingly when cooking for young children.
Description: In its pure form, copper (chemical symbol: Cu) is a reddish metal that occurs naturally in rocks, soil, water, and sediment at low levels. It has been used by humans for over more than 10000 years and is considered second only to iron in it's usefulness. It can be easily formed or shaped and is most commonly used as the compound copper sulfate.
Properties: ductile, soft, malleable, high thermal and electrical conductivity, biostatic (bacteria will not grow on it),
Typical Use: Electrical wiring, plumbing piping for domestic water systems, cookware, alloys such as brass (copper and zinc) and bronze (generally copper and tin), additive to fungicides and pesticides, antimicrobial agent for fixtures (bedrails, bathroom fixtures), and as a preservative for wood, leather and fabrics. Popular as an architectural material - e.g., for roofing - and as it naturally corrodes when exposed to the elements a protective green-coloured patina known as verdigris forms. (CU1, CU2)
Toxicity: Copper is an essential element for living organisms - for many enzyme reactions - and thus necessary for the body at low levels as a dietary mineral contributing to good health. It is necessary for the normal utilization of iron and for key cellular processes involved in energy production for the body. (CU1) Exposure to copper in everyday life is normal through food, drinking water, contact with soil, and even breathing air. (CU2)
If you have copper water pipes and your water is quite soft (tending toward acidity) then substantial copper may be leaching from the pipes into the water through corrosion. One way to overcome this is to simply let the water run for a bit (15-30 seconds) in the morning to pass through the water that has been sitting in the pipes (and brass fixtures if you have them) all night. CU1
Exposure to excess copper can also occur with the use of uncoated copper cookware, especially with acidic food that is directly in contact with the copper. Most copper cookware is coated with another metal, but this protective layer can degrade over time when used extensively with acidic food and/or scoured with, for example, steel wool.
Copper poisoning, known as copperiedus, can occur if one is exposed to higher doses of copper.
Acute copper toxicity is relatively rare and usually occurs accidentally, such as when a person intentionally ingests a large amount of a copper compound (has occurred with suicide attempts). Such intentionally high intakes of copper can cause liver and kidney damage and even death. (CU2)
Chronic copper toxicity can occur through long-term exposure to drinking water with high levels of copper, but as noted above if the suspected source is copper pipes, toxicity can be avoided by flushing the pipes in the morning before using the water. Excess copper in water gives the water an unpleasant astringent or bitter taste. Drinking water with higher than normal levels of copper, can lead to nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, or diarrhea. Long-term exposure to copper dust can irritate your nose, mouth, and eyes, and cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and diarrhea. (CU2)
Recycling Rate: Copper is 100% recyclable, particularly in it's pure state, though even as an alloy it can be refined back to purity. Wire production generally requires grade A newly refined copper, but practically all other applications can use copper derived from scrap recycled copper. Excluding wire production, approximately 72% of the industrial copper used derives from recycled scrap copper. Known worldwide copper in the earth is estimated at nearly 5.8 trillion pounds of which about 0.7 trillion pounds (12%) have been mined - much of which is still in circulation due to the high recycle rate. It's recycling potential is so great that recycled copper has at least 95% the economic value of virgin mined copper.
Our Suggestion: SAFE, but take precautions if using copper piping with soft water (more acidic) and avoid copper cookware.
Tin (+ Brass, Bronze and Pewter)
Description: Tin (chemical symbol: Sn) is a silvery, malleable metal that is often combined with other metals to create alloys, such as brass, bronze and pewter, for applications ranging from dishware to solder to food packaging. It does not oxidize easily (i.e., corrode or discolour in air) and is thus often used as plating for other metals like steel. It is generally mined from the mineral cassiterite in which it occurs as tin dioxide (SnO2). Bronze is usually made of copper (~80-90%) and tin (~10%). The earliest instances of human-made bronze items date back to before 4000 BC and gave rise to the Bronze Age. Pewter is an alloy of tin (85-99%) and other metals, usually copper, antimony, bismuth, and possibly lead and silver. Beginning in the Bronze Age and going through the Middle Ages up to the 20th century, pewter was commonly used for tableware in Europe and the Middle East. Brass is primarily composed of copper and zinc, but may contain small amounts of tin.
Properties: Malleable, ductile, crystalline and silvery-white, corrosion-resistant from water (but not acids or alkalis), highly conductive (superconductor).
Typical Use: Metal Tin: Solder in consumer electronics, especially mobile phones (holds together the circuit boards, transistors and resistors in items such as smartphones and tablets and mobiles -- approx. 7 grams of tin in every mobile phone; usually an alloy of tin (around 60% tin content) and other metals, possibly including lead); coating of steel cans for food packaging; piping in pipe organs; wires for superconducting magnets.
Inorganic Tins: Tin can be combined with chlorine, sulfur or oxygen to create inorganic tin compounds used in toothpaste, perfumes, soaps, coloring agents, food additives, dyes.
Organic Tins (organotins): Tin also can combine with carbon to form organotin compounds. They are used in making plastics (especially polyvinyl chloride (PVC)), food packages, plastic pipes, pesticides, paints, wood preservatives, rodent (rat and mice) repellants.
Brass: Keys, locks, gears, bearings, doorknobs, ammunition casings and valves; plumbing and electrical applications; musical instruments such as horns and bells, zippers; fittings and tools (for use in explosive environments because it does not spark when struck).
Bronze: Sculpture; bells, cymbals, other musical instruments; medals (e.g., Olympics); boat and ship parts (resists salt water corrosion); bearings, clips, electrical connectors, springs; hammers, mallets, wrenches (for use in explosive environments because it does not spark when struck).
Pewter: Tableware (dishes, candle holders), figurines, replica coins, pendants, plated jewellry.
Toxicity: Tin is a naturally occurring element in air, water and soil, and thus exposure to tin cannot be avoided. Regular exposure to naturally occurring tin is not considered a health concern.
Inorganic and metal tins are not considered very toxic as they are not well absorbed by the body, and if ingested leave the body quickly. Tin is not considered an essential element for humans. When large amounts of inorganic tins are swallowed the following health effects have been observed stomach aches, anemia, and liver and kidney problems. (T1, T2)
Organotins are considered quite toxic - especially trimethyltin and triethyltin - which are well absorbed by the human gastrointestinal tract. The following health effects have been reported: skin and eye irritation, respiratory irritation, gastrointestinal effects, and neurological problems in humans exposed for a short period of time to high amounts of certain organotin compounds. Some neurological problems have persisted for years after the poisoning occurred. Lethal cases have been reported following ingestion of very high amounts. (T1, T2)
Organotins are used as a stabilizer in the making of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), one of the most toxic plastics still widely used in consumer products. The organotins act to make the plastic more durable and resistant to weathering, but they can leach out of PVC products such as piping (T1). PVC is definitely one to avoid if at all possible.
The tin mining industry is problematic as it has been harshly criticized for child labour and health and safety dangers for workers, and for being environmentally destructive. Mobile phone makers such as Apple and Samsug, are increasingly being take to task for sourcing their tin from controversial regions, such as Indonesia's Bangka Island.
Although lead, a highly poisonous neurotoxin, is no longer commonly used for tin or pewter applications where the final product will be in contact with food or skin (it may still be used is solders and other applications), it is still wise to be wary of both tin and pewter. Older or antique tableware made of tin or pewter may well contain lead.
Lead is sometimes used in brass to enhance its machinability, and has been a concern in keys. Unleaded brass does exist, but the only way to know for sure if it has been used for your keys is to check with the manufacturer of the keys.
Recycling Rate: Tin is a relatively scarce element and thus recycled secondary or "scrap" tin is an important source of the tin supply. In 2013 in the US, about 13,800 tons of tin from old and new scrap was recycled in 2013. No tin has been mined or smelted in the US since 1993 and 1989, respectively. The main global supplier of tin is Indonesia. (T3)
Alternatives: Glass, paper, or tin-free steel substitute for tin in cans and containers. Other materials that substitute for tin are epoxy resins for solder; aluminum alloys, and copper-base alloys for bronze. Tableware made of tin would almost be considered "antiques" these days, and can be easily replaced for regular use with glass, ceramic or stainless steel tableware.
Our Suggestion: AVOID, in particular organotins and any tin alloy that is older, and thus may contain lead.
Description: Coming soon.
Typical Use: Coming soon.
Toxicity: Coming soon.
Recycling Rate: Coming soon.
Alternatives: Coming soon.
Description: Coming soon.
Typical Use: Coming soon.
Toxicity: Coming soon.
Recycling Rate: Coming soon.
Alternatives: Coming soon.
IMPORTANT NOTES: While we strive to provide as accurate and balanced information as possible on our website, Life Without Plastic cannot guarantee its accuracy or completness because there is always more research to do, and more up-to-date research studies emerging -- and this is especially the case regarding research on the health and environmental effects of plastics. As indicated in our Terms & Conditions, none of the information presented on this website is intended to be professional advice or to constitute a professional service to the individual reader. All matters regarding health require medical supervision, and the information presented on this website is not intended as a substitute for consulting with your physician.
Throughout our website, some technical terminology is used. In the interest of making the articles accessible and not too long, dry, or complex, technical terms may be hyper-linked to more detailed explanations and relevant reference material provided in Wikipedia. Please keep in mind that Wikipedia articles are written collaboratively by volunteers from all over the world and thus may contain inaccuracies. Life Without Plastic makes no guarantee of the validity of the information presented in Wikipedia articles to which we provide links. We suggest you read the Wikipedia General Disclaimer before relying on any information presented in a Wikipedia article.