Hygienic wipes à la Houdini

Often, it is not only toilet paper that lands in the lavatory pan at home, but cosmetic, personal care and hygiene wipes, which actually – and we all need to look critically at what we do – should go in the rubbish bin. Because nonwovens like that dissolve only with difficulty, if at all, there are veritable islands of rubbish floating in the sewers and sewage works, which then have to be cleared at considerable cost of time and effort. But this particular ‘island delight’ in the effluent could soon be a thing of the past.

The theory: nonwoven tissues for hygienic and personal care purposes consist for the most part of synthetic fibres, which are fixed in a thermal process, after treatment with chemical binding agents. This impacts fairly significantly on their ability to dissolve in water and, what is more, they are often impregnated with lotions or fragrant substances. And, even if hardly anyone officially admits it, cosmetic products of this kind are so often carelessly thrown into the lavatory that the drains and sewage works often get blocked with clumps of the stuff and whole sewage disposal systems collapse. Because the need for such products is constantly growing, the time is ripe for a ‘magic trick’ – the disappearance of hygiene tissues. (*Ahhhh*)

Fixed using nothing but water; picture of the machinery involved in the manufacture of the “Flushable Wipes” – from the Andritz company. Source: Andritz Küsters GmbH

Fixed using nothing but water; picture of the machinery involved in the manufacture of the “Flushable Wipes” – from the Andritz company. Source: Andritz Küsters GmbH

The trick: textile machinery manufacturer Andritz Küsters from Krefeld in North-Rhine Westphalia has, in collaboration with a sister company in France, developed a new kind of wet process for nonwovens, with which bio-degradable wipes can be manufactured, which (pause for the drum roll) dissolve bit by bit in the water of the loo, the drains and sewage works – until…. they have completely disappeared. (*uproarious applause*)

(Dis)solution: in contrast to the makers of traditional nonwoven beauty tissues, the Andritz engineers have opted for degradable cellulose instead of synthetic fibres, which are fixed just using a water jet – viz. concentrated kinetic energy – and without the use of chemical binding agents. This makes it so easy for the so-called ‘flushable wipes’ (see photo below) to disappear, that even the great magician Houdini, who, in 1918, caused an elephant weighing several tons to disappear without trace in Times Square, would be impressed.

Ronny Eckert

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