Photo of Carolina Serrano

Biotechnology & medicine

Carolina Serrano

Her reusable, biodegradable, and low-cost diapers meet eight of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Year Honored


Latin America

It takes 500 years for a disposable diaper to decompose and eight million of them are discarded every year in Latin America alone. In addition to this major environmental problem, the region has another: the extraction of sugar cane leaves a residue called bagasse, which producers usually dispose of by burning. This practice is often the source of numerous forest fires and releases gases into the atmosphere that are responsible for the climate crisis. 

In order to solve both problems with the same strategy, Ecuadorian biomedical engineer Carolina Serrano has created GelWear, a start-up through which she has designed biodegradable diapers  that are produced using sugarcane waste. In addition to minimizing the problem of bagasse management, its reincorporation as a raw material for her diapers also reduces the consumption of plastic and petroleum compared to traditional models. Thanks to this breakthrough, the young woman has become one of the winners of MIT Technology Review Spanish's Innovators Under 35 Latin America 2020.

GelWear diapers combine an outer layer of reusable cloth with a cellulose membrane made from sugarcane waste discarded in Ecuador. "We want to use sugarcane bagasse to make it biodegradable. This waste is normally burned and is a major pollutant associated with agriculture. In this way, it is given a second use and the membrane degrades in just one year," explains the creator.

The use of local resources in its production also promotes Ecuador's circular economy. In addition, she claims her product is cheaper than traditional alternatives, thus affirming that GelWear complies with eight of the 17  Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. Serrano's social enterprise seeks to provide biodegradable disposable diapers to the most impoverished population. In this way, it improves the quality of life of these people while reducing their ecological footprint. 

The initiative was launched in 2017 as a research project at Yachay Tech University (Ecuador). In just three years, it has already produced several prototypes with which the start-up has earned a place among the 30 candidates selected from the more than 200,000 worldwide in the Hult 2020Awards. Serrano's goal is to cover the Ecuadorian market before expanding throughout Latin America "as there is no low-cost eco-friendly diaper."

Alfredo Roldán, director of the Parquesoft National Network (Colombia) and member of the jury for Innovators under 35 Latin America 2020, says that GelWear "makes diapers more economical, degradable and environmentally friendly." And he applauds Serrano for "studying new ways to improve the product."