Author: Emily Flinchum
The Biofide team poses for a photo, touching their trophy against a blue backdrop with the Johns Hopkins logo.
Biofide team (L to R): Rohan Bongu, Brian Tran, Helene Girard, Ali Aydin, Jaila Acevedo at HopStart 2024.

One in four women experience some form of urinary incontinence when walking, sneezing, laughing, or jumping, leading many to use disposable incontinence pads. While a necessity for one in four women, these items—made of 80% plastic—have a massive environmental impact, with an estimated 3.6 tons of pads and similar hygiene products ending up in U.S. landfills.  

A team of Johns Hopkins chemical and biomolecular engineering students is developing Biofide, a biodegradable incontinence pad, to tackle this issue. Biofide won second place in the General Ventures I room at HopStart 2024. The students will present their prototype at the Whiting School of Engineering’s annual Design Day on May 1. 

Senior Jaila Acevedo first had the idea for the product. 

“I originally was interested in the environmental impact of infant diapers, as they are the third most common consumer landfill item. As we did more research, we realized that other absorbent hygiene products are also a major biodegradability concern. The group arrived at the idea of creating an adult incontinence pad that combatted this issue,” said Acevedo.  

Understanding that most absorbent hygiene products use super absorbent polymer (SAP), which can hold large amounts of liquid but is not biodegradable, the group “studied the products available in a local CVS, and even menstrual and incontinence pads that market themselves as using environmentally friendly materials still use non-biodegradable SAP,” said team member Rohan Bongu. 

Biofide’s solution is the use of biodegradable and water-soluble polyglutamic acid (PGA), which makes it an environmentally friendly alternative to SAP while still doing the same work.  

“PGA is derived through bacterial fermentation, and it can absorb up to 300 times its weight,” said team member Ali Aydin. 

This means that Biofide’s pads would break down naturally and leave behind no harmful residues, providing an alternative to the current market of non-biodegradable hygiene products, according to Helene Girard, a team member.  

“We hope that Biofide will be the start of actually biodegradable, earth-friendly hygiene products,” said member Brian Tran. “This product would significantly reduce the waste in our landfills and could be expanded in the future to other products such as diapers. We hope to continue with Biofide and be an alternative to the current market of non-biodegradable hygiene products.”