Not long ago, University of Utah assistant professor Jeff Bates was contacted by SHEVA, a nonprofit advocacy group for women and girls in Guatemala. The group was seeking eco-friendly feminine hygiene products, since much of the country lacks a public sanitation system. Bates turned to a team of his engineering students, and they created a completely biodegradable maxi pad … which incorporates algae.

Known as the SHERO Pad, it's made up of four layers.

These include an outer layer of raw cotton (similar to what tea bags are made of), a layer of organic cotton that draws liquid in from that outer layer, a super-absorbent layer of agarose gel (which is a polymer derived from brown algae), and a layer made of corn-based material that prevents leakage by keeping moisture trapped inside.

Although other "green" pads do already exist, some of them incorporate hydrogels that aren't entirely biodegradable, or they utilize thick layers of natural cotton which make them uncomfortable to wear. By contrast, the SHERO Pad completely biodegrades within 45 days to six months of being discarded, it's reportedly comfortable, and it's said to be highly effective.

As an added bonus for the folks at SHEVA, it can also be manufactured in small villages using locally-sourced materials and simple tools. That said, plans additionally call for it to be mass-produced by a Utah-based startup, for use by American consumers. It should be available in stores within one year.

Scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology have created a biodegradable pad of their own, meanwhile, which incorporates nanofibers made of cellulose acetate.