Luisa Kahlfeldt, an industrial design student from ECAL, is the winner of this year’s top national James Dyson Award 2019 in Switzerland for her SUMO project – a diaper made from 100% sustainable Sea-Cell fiber.
Kahlfeldt’s innovative and sustainable idea encapsulates everything that the Dyson Award stands for. The award is presented to individuals who are successfully solving everyday problem that are otherwise often ignored.
Disposable diapers are in proportional terms, the third largest item to enter landfill. 17 million disposable diapers end up as waste every day in Europe alone. Experts say that single use diapers can take up to 500 years to fully decompose because they are made of absorbent polymers and other synthetic fibers that don’t break down easily. What’s more, these materials contain toxic chemicals and toxins that have been associated skin irritation, rashes, and more recently, various cancers.
On the other hand, Kahlfeldt’s SUMO diaper, is biodegradable, can be used countless times, and offers a hygienic and skin-friendly alternative to traditional diapers. The material used to make the diaper is a 100% sustainable sea-cell fiber containing eucalyptus and algae extracts. This means the diaper is antibacterial, has great absorbent properties, and is biodegradable as well.
The SUMO diaper also offers a cheap alternative to traditional diapers as they reusable many times. When the SUMO is ready to be thrown away, it can be recycled easily and cheaply, without any waste. These factors are very attractive on an economic level as well as on an ecological level.
Kahlfeldt worked in collaboration with a renowned textile institute to develop SUMO. She explained:
“I had a personal desire to learn more about sustainable textile manufacturing and processing. The fabric we developed showed many unique properties that put me on the cloth diaper. Traditional diapers lack sustainable and well-thought-out alternatives.
I wanted to apply my industrial design skills and improve an everyday, yet complex and technical product.”
How The SUMO Diaper Works
- Just like in all conventional diapers, there’s three distinct layers, each of which has a specific task.
- The inner-most layer is very soft and absorbent as it sits directly next to the infant’s skin.
- The next layer out is the super absorbing layer of the diaper. It is where the majority of moisture is soaked up.
- For both these layers, SeaCell was used as the product is incredibly soft in both wet and dry states and extremely absorbent.
- The outer-most layer keeps the diaper waterproof and prevents any leaking liquids.
Kahlfeldt collaborated with Swiss brand Schoeller. They developed an innovative material called EcoRepel. It’s an environmentally friendly waterproofing technology that is also biodegradable.
They saturated SeaCell with EcoRepel, and were able to get SUMO to withstand abrasion and repeated machine washings. The SUMO proves to be very durable and a sustainable alternative to normal, polluting diapers.
Other disposable diapers use plastic snap buttons that are virtually impossible to remove later on and therefore difficult to recycle. Most diapers are also made up of as many as five different materials. The absorbing fabrics are normally permanently laminated with polyester or polyurethane.
Kahlfeldt began her design process by focusing on improving “recyclability” and quality of product
The SUMO diaper is the very first mono-material diaper that has gone to market meaning that currently, it really is the most eco-friendly option available. Cloth diapers are traditionally made up natural and synthetic fibers that are permanently bonded together, making them almost impossible to recycle.
On the other hand, Mono-materiality (being made up of only one material), such as the SUMO diaper is quickly being considered as the ideal concept for sustainable recycling because when the product enters the recycling stream, its easily recycled without waste, extra handling, time or cost!
Kahlfeldt says her next goal is to find investment. This financial support would allow that would give her the financial support to develop and produce a more refined product this is specifically engineered for specific use scenarios. She “strongly believes that this project has the potential to have a positive impact on the environment and represent a social and financial benefit for families.”