The standard pregnancy tests you know are clunky, plastic devices, and they’ve been that way, without significant innovation, for decades. The innovations that have occurred in the pregnancy test field have primarily functioned to modernize the gadgets, digitizing them with fancy computer screens. While that may make them easier to read, it’s also made a product that was already hard to recycle even more environmentally unfriendly.
“Chances are, if you were born before the 1980s, your mom’s plastic pregnancy test is still somewhere here on earth in a landfill,” says Bethany Edwards, cofounder of Lia Diagnostics, a company committed to “revolutionize reproductive health.” To do that, they’re revamping the outmoded pregnancy test, to make the hormone-detection process more sustainable.
On this week’s World Changing Ideas podcast, Edwards and her cofounder, Anna Couturier, discuss the development of their biodegradable, glueless, paper pregnancy test—whose prototype won our World Changing Ideas Award in the Health category in 2018. The finished product was released this March.
One of the biggest issues that drove them to shake up the old-fashioned model was that the life cycle of the product is so short. It only takes minutes to use a pregnancy test, but at such a long-term environmental cost. They decided to focus on a test that would be disposable and biodegradable, rather than recyclable.
That took a lot of research and development, including testing thousands of urine samples. “Anna and I have gotten probably way too much urine on our hands,” Edwards says. “Literally.” Couturier’s baby, now 16 months old, was first detected during their development phase. After thousands of urine samples, origami influences, and flushing tests using a specially raised toilet with clear PVC pipes (to track flushability) in Couturier’s basement, they generated a foldable and flushable pregnancy test.
But Lia also tackles another considerable factor: privacy. After use, the product goes straight down the toilet instead of in the garbage can, where tests could be exposed to other bathroom users’ prying eyes. That’s empowering, the duo says, for both women who are trying to get pregnant and those who aren’t. For the former, tests can sometimes be overwhelming. “Seeing a bunch of them pile up in the trash is heart-wrenching,” Edwards says. “You don’t necessarily want somebody knowing that you’re taking that many tests.”
In the end, Lia created a pregnancy test that’s simple, minimalist, and does exactly what it needs to do at one of the nerviest moments in a woman’s life. “They need to know an answer,” Couturier says. “They don’t need a computer screen, and batteries, and excess plastic, and glass fibers, and all this junk. Yes or no: That’s what you need.”