After witnessing my sister’s journey with diaper changing (and participating in it as per Aunty's duties), I was stunned by the sheer amounts of non-compostable plastic disposed of after five nappy changes a day. While discussions for single-use plastics tend to be dominated by plastic straws and bags, disposable diapers contribute significantly to plastic waste, with 250 million diapers used globally daily. Disposable diapers are synthesized from several types of plastic, including polyethylene and polypropylene; in fact, each nappy contains one cup of crude oil. An estimated 167 billion disposable diapers are produced annually- that’s 248.5m barrels of crude oil! The diapers that end up in landfills are incinerated while the remainder choke our oceans. Although existing disposal systems have taken a step toward sustainability with eco-refills and using recycled plastic to make the bin, a leap towards a more regenerative system that moves past “take, make, waste” is needed.

Determined to integrate diaper disposal into the sustainable circular economy, I was motivated to create a state-of-the-art diaper disposal system: The Nappinator. The Nappinator incorporates a novel mechanism and a chemical solution that enables rapid biodegradation of compostable and biodegradable nappies. Initial seed funding from the BOOST scheme, coupled to a highly collaborative environment at the Advanced Hackspace, has kickstarted the development of the first prototype. Although many rounds of optimization are still required, I have a newfound addiction to “hacking” (and 3D printers!)  and admire the highly rewarding journey of product development. A large pillar of the initial stages of the project also involved scientific research of engineering concepts that were quite alien to a chemist like me. From the fluid mechanics of the chemical degrader to the electromechanical architecture of a propellor- the learning curve remains steep yet highly rewarding. My current goal is to craft a minimum viable product (MVP) that can be brought to the early market, thus promoting an efficient design cycle. After a rather long hiatus, I am excited to make and break again at the hackspace with new collaborators from the Imperial Engineering School. The biggest hurdle has been working on the project parallel to my PhD project when time is your most valuable resource. The saying “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” has become my mantra, reminding me that time can be optimized with both strategic thinking and deliberate action.