Mechanical Engineering


Research into Sustainability of Absorbent Hygiene Products wins £1.75m UKRI Funding

17 July 2023

A new project, led by Professor Mark Miodownik, was one of five projects that winning funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), as part of an initiative to help deliver a step change in the sustainability of plastics.

photo of a mound of used nappies dumped

The project, Achieving Sustainability of Absorbent Hygiene Products, aims to address the rising demand for hygiene products – such as disposable nappies, period products and incontinence pads – that is a result of ageing populations and birth rates increasing in some areas of the world.

As the plastic waste stream caused by these hygiene products is already out of control, The Comfort Loop research project will design a sustainable, integrated system covering production, use and disposal of absorbent hygiene products across the UK.

While the project will focus on fundamental research using 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. There will be the practical insights and policy impacts as well. The research project also plans to draw on the expertise of the NHS, various charities, the recycling sector, local and national governments.


Multidisciplinary research

The project is multidisciplinary, a hallmark of UCL research. The team consists of Paola Letteri (LCA), Susan Michie (Behaviour Change), Helen Hailes (Chemistry), Jack Jefferies (Biochemical Engineering), Mark Miodownik (Materials Science & Design) and four doctoral 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 and managed by Danielle Purkiss.

The Principal Investigator, Professor Mark Miodownik said “Absorbent hygiene products are an important part of everyone’s life from childhood to old age, making them non-polluting and affordable for all is an important milestone in our evolution towards a sustainable society. This research aims to contribute significantly to achieving this milestone.”

Photo of waste diapers courtesy of I-Stock/Getty Images