What is it Fully biodegradable and eco-friendly sanitary napkins
Who’s behind it Saathi Pads, an Ahmedabad-based start-up
TALKING ABOUT menstruation or sanitary pads still remains taboo in India. We might be on the cusp of being a developed nation, but are far behind when it comes to the girl child being educated. One of the biggest reasons for girls dropping out of school in rural areas is lack of access to sanitary pads. Moreover, unhygienic alternatives like makeshift pads made from ra gs, old clothes, etc, lead to various diseases and infections.
Twenty-six-year-old Kristin Kagetsu, 28-year-old Amrita Saigal and 26-year-old Grace Kane first thought of making low-cost sanitary pads when they were all students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge around five years back. But when Kagetsu moved to India two years back to work for an NGO in Uttarakhand, she realised that the problem had an altogether different angle to it. “When I moved to India, I spent time understanding what all options there were in the sanitary pad market and realised that there were already many low-cost manufacturers. There were also many organisations focused solely on education and awareness on this issue,” says Kagetsu. “However, sanitary pad is a disposable product that typically ends up in a landfill... and even then, it doesn’t decompose for 500-800 years. In villages, this is a big problem. So we spent the past year on R& D to develop fully-biodegradable sanitary pads made from banana tree fibre,” says Kagetsu, who founded the Ahmedabad-based company Saathi Pads two years ago with Kane and Saigal. Other team members include lead engineer Tarun Bothra and business development lead Rupesh Rajawat.
Banana fibre, which is usually a waste product for farmers, is procured from the banana plantation belt near Ahmed ab ad.Sa at hi Pads, a winner of the 2016 Young Innovators Challenge Award, is 100% biodegradable and doesn’t need to be burned for disposal, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is also devoid of any toxic chemicals, so it’s not likely to cause rashes. “You can also upcycle these pads. They can be composted and put in biogas systems. The material we have used makes Saathi Pads different from other options available in the market. It’s an all-natural product. There are no artificial chemicals or plastic,” says Kagetsu.
Saathi Pads faced many challenges in the beginning. Apart from apprehensions related to menstruation and sanitary pads that are still prevalent in rural areas, the company also faced a few hiccups in the production process .“When we started out, it was a challenge to find the right materials since we wanted the product to be compostable,” says Kagetsu. The company had five rounds of user trials, each version an improvement on the last.
Currently being manufactured in Ahmedabad for user trials and awareness campaigns, Kagetsu says they plan to launch Saathi Pads commercially in the market by next year, though the price is not fixed yet. “Right now, we are using banana fibre, but in the future, we are looking to use other sorts of natural fibres as well,” says Kagetsu, adding, “We have a pad that is comparable to commercial pads in terms of look, feel and function. We are right now working with the NGO Ekal Vidyalaya to distribute these to one million women in Jharkhand and Rajasthan over the course of the next year. We want to be present in the urban market as well,” Kagetsu adds.
CURRENTLY BEING MANUFACTURED IN AHMEDABAD, THE PRODUCT DOESN’T NEED TO BE BURNED FOR DISPOSAL, REDUCING GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS. IT IS ALSO DEVOID OF ANY TOXIC CHEMICALS
(Above) The sanitary napkins are made from banana tree fibre; and the team behind the product