Designing a completely compostable diaper

Compostable Diapers Design and Innovation Day Team

Johnny Cai, Wendy Ma, Alex Jung, Sabiha Sultana and Hannah Tesch

The challenge

Ninety percent of a disposable diaper consists of plastic, and each year, more than 30 billion disposable diapers end up in North American landfills.

Diapers are an environmental disaster. Aruna Revolution Health Inc., a company currently working on compostable menstrual pads, wants to change that by developing a completely compostable diaper.

We were asked to design a 100% compostable diaper with all the convenience and benefits of a disposable diaper. Our design needed to be soft and comfortable on the baby’s skin, absorb 6.8 times its weight in water, meet industrial composting standards and be affordable.

Our inspiration

Rashmi Prakash, the co-founder of Aruna Revolution, was an amazing mentor. She inspired us with her vision of what’s possible, as well as her experience working with materials and transforming them into sustainable products.

More About UBC Alum, Rashmi Prakash

Our design process and challenges

We began by researching the function of each layer of the diaper – the soft top layer that’s in contact with skin, the liquid distribution layer, the absorbent core and the leakage-proof bottom layer. Each layer has different material properties. In a conventional disposable diaper, these layers are made of plastic-based polymers. We needed to find compostable substitutes for each layer, as well as processes to make them and assemble the diaper.  

We also wanted to find materials that were from sustainable sources. From the very beginning, our client emphasized the importance of this.

For example, cotton might be seen as a viable alternative, but there are a lot of negative environmental impacts associated with growing and bleaching cotton. This led us to consider materials that are traditionally viewed as waste. We were ultimately able to use waste materials for two of the four layers.

Why not cotton?

Putting together our prototype was a very manual and time-intensive process. We used a 3D-printed mold to create a sample that’s square in shape and about one-fifth the size of an actual diaper. We used compostable glue to put the layers together.

Our final result exceeded the liquid holding capacity of our requirement and our research validated that all materials could be composted within 90 days.

Sustainability at UBC

What excited us most

None of us have a background in materials research, so there were lots of opportunities to push ourselves in new directions. We had to be creative and look to different sources of materials.

The actual process of extracting fibre from materials and transforming it into a non-woven sheet was very exciting. There was definitely a lot of trial and error, but we were very persistent, and were ultimately able to come up with a process that worked. We also used some statistical software that helped us optimize our blend for performance and cost.

Finally, it was meaningful to work on a project to try and create a truly compostable diaper. Disposable diapers are a significant problem, and although some diapers are marketed as biodegradable, there’s a fair bit of greenwashing going on as these diapers do not biodegrade in landfills.

Our project’s future

The client was pleased with the results of our project, stating that it surpassed her expectations given the time frame and that our solution looks promising. We will be sending our product to our client for industrial tests and further development.

Discover Student Experiences

UBC Applied Science students are people who are passionate about their chosen field — architecture, landscape architecture, community and regional planning, engineering and nursing — and those that inspire others by making meaningful contributions to the betterment of society.

Browse Student and Alumni Spotlights
UBC Crest The official logo of the University of British Columbia. Arrow An arrow indicating direction. Arrow in Circle An arrow indicating direction. Caret An arrowhead indicating direction. E-commerce Cart A shopping cart. Time A clock. Chats Two speech clouds. Facebook The logo for the Facebook social media service. Home A house in silhouette. Information The letter 'i' in a circle. Calendar Location Instagram The logo for the Instagram social media service. Linkedin The logo for the LinkedIn social media service. Social Media The globe is the default icon for a social media platform. TikTok The logo for the TikTok social media platform. Location Pin A map location pin. Mail An envelope. Telephone An antique telephone. Play A media play button. Search A magnifying glass. Arrow indicating share action A directional arrow. Speech Bubble A speech bubble. Star An outline of a star. Twitter The logo for the Twitter social media service. Urgent Message An exclamation mark in a speech bubble. User A silhouette of a person. Vimeo The logo for the Vimeo video sharing service. Youtube The logo for the YouTube video sharing service. Future of work A logo for the Future of Work category. Inclusive leadership A logo for the Inclusive leadership category. Planetary health A logo for the Planetary health category. Solutions for people A logo for the Solutions for people category. Thriving cities A logo for the Thriving cities category. University for future A logo for the University for future category.