We continue to focus our work around sustainable development that makes a positive change to our communities. In our Natural Sciences department, we look for research projects that can protect our planet. When you study with us, you’ll see first-hand how you can go on to make your own positive impact on a global scale.
Pioneering MDX research published in the journal ‘Environmental Science: Nano’ has shown that some popular tampons may release plastic nanoparticles during use on an unforeseen scale of billions per period.
Principal Investigator Leonardo Pantoja Munoz (Technical Tutor, Analytical Chemistry and Instrumentation) and colleagues Alejandra Gonzalez Baez (Bioscience Technician), Professor Diane Purchase (Professor of Environmental Biotechnology), Dr Huw Jones (Associate Professor of Environmental Chemistry) and Dr Hemda Garelick (Professor for Natural Sciences) set out to investigate the health and environmental impact of tampons.
Using a Syngina test - the lab process typically used to assess tampon absorbency – the research team tested 24 makes of tampons. They found synthetic plastics in 12 of them and evidence for the release of plastic microfibres in seven of these. They estimate a maximum of 17 billion nanoplastic fibres are released per tampon, and an average of 9.4 billion per tampon, working out as 86 trillion fibres over a lifetime’s use.
“We did not expect to find man-made plastics in the part of the tampon directly exposed to the vaginal wall during normal use, which raises questions about product composition, labelling and consumer choice.”
Leonardo Pantoja Munoz, Technical Tutor at Middlesex University
With plastics breaking down into microscopic nanoplastics, possible health risks come from the particles themselves; the release of pollutants coating the particles in a thin film; and from the leaching of additives in the plastic. The researchers say there is the potential for nanoplastic particles to cross cell membranes and the placental barrier and cause further risk.
The research team tested alternatives to popular tampon brands, including 100% organic cotton products, period cups and polyurethane sponges, finding that only cups do not disintegrate in the vaginal tract. On the basis of the extent of fibre release they found in the lab, they estimate environmental release of 155 quintillion fibres each year. They urge users to throw tampons in the bin, not flush them down the toilet, to avoid sewer blockages and minimise impact on marine life.
Sustainability is in MDX's lifeblood and much of our pioneering research aligns with creating a more sustainable future. Middlesex was one of the first universities in the UK to sign up to the UN Global Compact, committing it to contribute to and work towards fulfilling the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
In our Natural Sciences department, we look for research projects that can protect our planet. When you study with us, you’ll see first-hand how you can go on to make your own positive impact on a global scale.
Got questions about our research or want to learn more about what it’s like to study Natural Sciences at Middlesex? Head to Unibuddy where you can chat to current students and academic staff.
In collaboration with London South Bank University’s Civil Engineering department and Network Rail, Middlesex Professor of Environmental Biotechnology, Diane Purchase, has been working on a research project on biocementation.
Biocementation looks at the use of micro-organisms that form calcium carbonate to repair soil erosion and damage. Working at a Network Rail site, they looked to see if it could fill up the gaps in the soil and make it stronger. Professor Purchase and her team are also looking at the potential of these micro-organisms to restore polluted land. When comparing biocementation against other processes, it produces around 80% less CO2, making it a much more sustainable process.
“The project is an excellent example of collaboration between different institutions and application of research findings directly to industry, [and] an exciting cross-fertilisation between Natural Sciences and Civil Engineering disciplines to provide a sustainable solution to help mitigate climate change.”
Professor Diane Purchase
When studying with us you’ll be guided by our amazing academics, like Professor Purchase, who will be able to share their incredible knowledge and extensive experience within your field of study.
Alejandra Gonzalez Baez, a Microbiology researcher and bioscience technician, has been looking into how we can use micro-organisms to break down electrical or electronic waste or e-waste. This is the world’s fastest growing waste stream as 50 million tonnes are produced every year and globally less than 20% is recycled.
Alejandra is looking at the process of bioleaching which uses micro-organisms to break down e-waste and extract rare earth metals from the waste that’s needed for lots of green technologies. Current practices for e-waste use a lot of energy and creates lots of pollution. Bioleaching doesn’t need high temperatures or pressures, which will make for a much more sustainable process.
Alejandra is looking ahead to see how to apply bioleaching on a larger, potentially industrial scale when her current study completes in 2024 and here at Middlesex, we’re always keen for our students to get involved where they can to help expand their knowledge and give them as much experience in industry as possible.