New Generation Nappies: Turning a Sting into a Stink?

Cine'al, a nano technology company in Israel, has been looking to develop a highly absorbent material for nappies, tampons and paper towels, from jellyfish.

Author Annalisa Dorigo, 12.22.15

Cine’al, a nano technology company in Israel, has been looking to develop a highly absorbent material for nappies, tampons and paper towels, from jellyfish.

Using research led by Professor Richter at Tel Aviv University, Cine’al Ltd. has developed ‘hydromesh’ from the breakdown of jellyfish flesh, a material to be used in products such as nappies and tampons, and which not only can absorb a lot more than their currently-available, synthetically-derived counterparts, but can also biodegrade faster. According to the research, a jellyfish nappy would dispose within one month, versus the estimated 250-500 years required for a standard one. 

The warming of our ocean due to climate change, as well as overfishing killing their natural predators, has led to an increase in the number of jellyfish in our seas and Israel, like many other countries, has been experiencing regular invasions of these creatures for some time. A jellyfish infestation means not only that beaches lie empty, but local businesses pay the price too, and these slimy creatures can also clog-up waterways – indeed the reason why a nuclear reactor in Sweden had to be shut down not long ago.  

And while jellyfish have been scourging our seaside resorts, mountains of disposable baby-nappies are also a blight to our environment, with some eight million disposable nappies landing in landfills every day in the UK alone. Cine’al hope to solve these two problems in one slippery stroke.

The idea is an ingenious one, and could help drastically reduce the amount of waste and toxic chemicals accumulating in our environment, as well as help prevent the clogging up of waterways. However it does raise some questions.

It is premised on the assumption that jellyfish are pests and serve no real purpose. But do we really know enough about them to dismiss them just as pests? Thanks to their nano-particles-trapping mucus for example, biologists now think there may be more to them that meets the eye and that jellyfish could in fact help clean our seas.

Indeed even if those slimy blobs that wash on our beaches do not look very appealing, they are also a source of food in some places. As climate change continues to warm our oceans, and extreme weather events, floods and droughts increasingly undermine food production in some places, jellyfish could be tapped into as a food source of the future. Could harvesting jellyfish for nappies and the like undermine this potential in the long term, the same way as fuel crops have been known to be problematic for food crops? 

And lastly, even non-vegetarians may question using a living creature to fulfill our voracious appetite for ultimately disposable products.

Whether you fully embrace the idea or have reservations, turning hydromesh into a commercially-viable product may be a way off yet. The research does highlight however that even seemingly ‘useless’ creatures can inspire ideas and help develop solutions to some of the big dilemmas of our times.

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