The Comfort Loop: A systems approach for sustainable absorbent hygiene products
We are carrying out the fundamental science and engineering that will underpin the transition to a sustainable system for the provision of nappies, incontinence pads and period products. We take a whole systems approach which includes the chemical, bioengineering, material science and design, behavioural science, environmental assessment, waste processing, economic and policy factors that must all be considered to create a sustainable future for this product category. We are carrying out this work in collaboration with industry and policy makers across the whole AHP sector from raw materials to product design, to waste processing, to find optimal solutions across the whole system.
The core UCL research team consists of Prof. Paola Letteri and Dr Andrea Paulillo (LCA), Prof. Susan Michie and Dr Fabiana Lorencatto (Behaviour Change), Prof. Helen Hailes (Chemistry), Dr Jack Jeffries (Biochemical Engineering), Prof. Mark Miodownik (Materials Science & Design) and four researchers. The project is part of a wider set of activities coordinated by the multidisciplinary Plastic Waste Innovation Hub which we established at UCL in 2019, managed by Danielle Purkiss.
We are studying three types of products: nappies, incontinence pads and period products. For each of these we are analysing use models for reduce, reuse, recycling and composting. We are taking a whole systems approach with a multidisciplinary perspective using four lenses: (1) Life Cycle Analysis, (2) Behavioural Analysis, (3) Materials & Design, and (4) Bio/Chemical. We have identified three context specific settings that need realistic solutions. These are the home setting, the healthcare setting, and the office/workplace setting. Our goal is to analyse the barriers and enablers for circular solutions that work in these settings but that are generalisable across AHPs. To manage the ambitious scope of this project we pair reduce/reuse approaches to Behavioural Analysis, recycling approaches to Materials/Design approaches, and bio/chemical approaches to Composting solutions. This creates a matrix of research questions, each important in their own right but acknowledges that they will be context specific. Uniquely, this allows us to develop circular strategies and compare them to each other using LCA.
We have received £1.75M funding to undertake the first 3 years of this project from UKRI (EPSRC & BBSRC). We are actively looking for further funding. Please contact us if you are interested in participating.