BBC presenter and environmentalist Anita Rani spent a day in a Middlesex science lab with MDX staff, Leonardo Pantoja Munoz and Alejandra Gonzalez Baez, analysing different wet wipe samples (flushable and non-flushable) in order to assess their plastic content.
The results of these experiments now feature as part of the BBC series War on Plastic which started on 10 June and is presented by Anita and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The wet wipes and plastic element will be highlighted in the second episode on Monday 17 June.
The BBC team were aware of the expertise at MDX following the publication of the research paper “Characterisation of "flushable" and "non-flushable" commercial wet wipes using microRaman, FTIR spectroscopy and fluorescence microscopy: to flush or not to flush”. Leonardo Pantoja Munoz and Hemda Garelick are the lead authors of this paper and the co-authors are Alejandra Gonzalez Baez and Deena McKinney.
The team’s interest in the plastic content in wipes goes back to 2015 when Deena was studying for her Masters at Middlesex and became interested in the flushability of wet wipes which were becoming so popular. In 2015 the researchers could not definitively conclude that flushable wet wipes contained plastic but they pursued their research and invested in new analytical tools.
In June 2018 their research was published and concluded that plastic was present in some flushable wipes and in all non-flushable ones.
Commenting on the study, Leonardo said: “Our paper came out at exactly the right moment in time. David Attenborough’s Blue Planet showed the devastating effects that plastic could have on the environment if it is not disposed of properly and suddenly the public, the government and other political parties were, finally, beginning to talk about tackling this issue.
“Our research is conclusive. Wet wipes contain plastic and should not be flushed down the toilet. Even the ones that say they are bio-degradable do not disintegrate in time to prevent sewers from blocking”
“Don’t flush – remember the simple three P rule. Toilets are for paper, pee and poo.”
The research team will be presenting their findings at the 47th IUPAC World Chemistry Congress in July 2019 in Paris.
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