Visitors could then analyse some of the plastics in a pop-up science lab, led by Dr Helen Coulshed from Kings College London chemistry department. Participants used UV spectrometers to look at the chemical signature of plasticisers in solutions, and carried out density tests to work out which plastic they had chosen from Maria's collection.
Volunteers from the KCL chemistry department and five Royal Society of Chemistry members, as well as our education coordinator for South East England, Chrissie Maitland, were on hand to discuss the different analytical techniques and how the breakdown of certain plastics in our water can affect organisms that might come into contact with them.
“The plastic lab helped to show the participants how we can work out what plastics an object is made from and whether that can be recycled,” explains Chrissie. “It also helped them understand how we know that plasticisers are leaking into the waterways from the plastic rubbish that has been dumped there. Both students and volunteers learnt a lot through their participation in the activities.”
“The children were very keen, particularly one group of primary school students that came, because normally they don’t have science experiments in class,” adds Maria. “They didn’t want to leave because they’d had such a good time!”
The team ran three school sessions with around 30 pupils and interacted with roughly 300 members of the public over the course of the week.
Maria will use the sorted plastic to create an art installation for the Thames Festival, which runs for the whole month of September. Keep an eye out on the website for more information: www.thamesplastic.com.