Summer Chen

Innovation & Design

‘Something for the weekend’

Biodegradable Material and Sexual Wellbeing
Featured on: Fast&Company
Honree of Best Student Design in 2020

Project Duration: 3 months
Role: Material Product Designer

‘Something for the weekend’ is a biodegradable condom made from seaweed.

“Would you like something for the ‘weekend sir?” This used to be the code for “Do you want to buy some condoms sir?” in barber shops across England. Latex condoms are single-use,disposable products, and yet we don’t normally think about their environmental impact after use.

I intend to develop a strong, lowcost and biodegradable condom that is made from plant-based materials. Biocondoms are made from algaebased biomaterial that can biodegrade after use and serve as a sustainable alternative to latex condoms. While social stigma around sex still exits and the environmental impact of condoms are underdiscussed in today’s society, I aspire not only to create a product that can be a more sustainable alternative to latex condoms, but also aim to break the stigma around sex, making condoms an affordable and accessible tool for preventing STDs all over the world.

Global condom markets are dominated by just a few companies and manufacture of condoms relies on latex production in Southeast Asia. If condoms can be made with easily accessible raw materials from everywhere, then we don’t have to rely on latex condoms produced exclusively in Southeast Asia. This will allow us to create a localized production and produce affordable condoms which could dramatically improve the accessibility of condoms in developing countries while minimizing their enviromental impact.

Material Innovation

The idea of making condoms emerged from my material research project where I created a piece of material that looked like a flat condom. I researched the industrial manufacturing process for condoms and mimicked the dipping process with my algaebased biopolymer solution to produce a homogeneous and thin film that resembles a condom. This material is still under development as it currently fails to match the elasticity of latex. However, it is easy to adhere to the silicone mould and does not stick to itself after drying, unlike latex. Most importantly, it is made from natural ingredients with no harsh chemicals and it is biodegradable. Based on my research of the condom manufacturing process, water leakage tests and air inflation tests are conducted as part of the quality control process. I recreated the tests in order to compare my condom to commercial latex condoms.

I also explored the idea of creating a packaging material for the condom as the traditional aluminum foil wrapper does not biodegrade. Latex condoms can be impaired if exposed to extreme heat, around 40°C, and can make them weak or sticky. Exposure to ultraviolet light can ruin condoms in only a few hours. Aluminum foil provides a complete barrier to light, oxygen, moisture and bacteria. For this reason, foil is used extensively in food and pharmaceutical packaging. If the material of the condom can be changed, then the packaging materials can potentially change as well, as long as the packaging performs the same function as foil. I encapsulated a piece of biocondom in between two layers of materials made from the same algae-based biopolymer, and used a ravioli stamp to recreate the standard square wrapper with serrated edges for easy opening. By using the self-adherent property of this algae-based biomaterial, I was able to create a condom wrapper that is easy to open and biodegradable.

More tests are needed to ensure the wrapper can protect the condom from the external environment. This will be an area that I continue to research and experiment. One study shows gels made from carrageenan (a type of red algae) offer protection against HSV-2 transmission by binding to the receptors on the herpes virus, thus preventing the virus from binding to cells. Further investigation is needed to determine the effectiveness of biocondoms as a way to prevent STDs.

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