A Circular Approach to Health and Sanitation

A Circular Approach to Health and Sanitation

Saathi Pads

5. Gender Equality 6. Clean Water and Sanitation 12. Responsible Consumption and Production 15. Life on Land

Overview

Menstruators have issues due to irritation or rashes from the plastics/chemicals used in standard pads. On average a menstruator in a lifetime generates 60kg of plastic from using sanitary pads alone. To overcome the problem Saathi came up with the sustainable solution of having biodegradable & compostable pads using plant-based materials. Saathi pads are made with banana fiber which comes from the stem of the banana tree, which after harvesting is normally discarded. The idea was to improve women's access to sanitary pads in India that is sustainable by using natural materials and impacts women. It provides them with an irritation-free experience.

Authors

Sourish Ganguly

Sourish Ganguly

Bhavya Oberoi

Bhavya Oberoi

Hitesh Malani

Hitesh Malani

Kashish Bhatnagar

Kashish Bhatnagar

Shibika Bose

Shibika Bose

Tanya Arora

Tanya Arora

School

Goa Institute of Management

Goa Institute of Management

Professor

Divya Singhal

Divya Singhal

Innovation

Saathi is a purpose-driven manufacturing company that makes eco-friendly hygiene products founded by MIT, Harvard, & Nirma graduates to innovate the use of alternate materials and zero-waste production. It also strives to offer hygiene products that are good for the body, community, and environment.

Saathi was founded in 2015 by the co-founders: Kristin Kagetsu, Tarun Bothra, and Grace Kane inspired by the idea of improving women’s access to sanitary pads in India. The idea was to create a sustainable product using natural materials and impact women.

They were motivated by the potential to make a positive difference for women in India while using an engineering approach focused on ecology and sustainability.

Saathi pads are biodegradable & compostable, using plant-based materials for the leak-proof outer layers of the napkin. On average, a menstruator creates a plastic waste of 60kg in their entire life because of conventional sanitary pads.

Saathi pads degrade within six months, i.e., 1200 times faster than plastic pads. It also provides a rash and irritation-free experience since chemicals and plastic are not used.

Saathi pads are made with banana fiber because of its highly absorbent properties, and the environmental and social benefits of its supply chain. Banana fiber uses six times less water per ton produced than cotton, and 10 times fewer fertilizers.

By optimizing the use of banana fiber as consumer product raw material, Saathi hopes to empower its product in the expanded market.

“A friend to my body & wellness, a Saathi to our local farmers and women, and a friend to our environment” is what customers say about Saathi pads.

A Circular Approach to Health and Sanitation

Inspiration

The leaders were inspired by the idea of enhancing the accessibility of women to sanitary pads in India. One of their founders – Ms. Kristin, was an engineer from MIT who loved development and engineering. She had come to India first on a fieldwork project that would develop natural crayons, later on working for an NGO – Avani based out of Uttarakhand.

These experiences pushed her towards the development of a social enterprise.

As Mr. Tarun said, “In India, only 18% of women get access to sanitary napkins, which leads to menstrual hygiene issues.”

The original plan was to develop low-cost sanitary pads for helping out the rural women but then they thought that making a merely low-cost product would not have solved the real issue of the product life cycle and they wanted to envision their business model on the foundations of a circular economy. They did not want their product to be another disposable product.

Over 9000 tons of sanitary waste are produced which use these ‘super-absorbent’ materials and chemicals which impact the environment adversely. Their final solution was to not only reach out to rural women but also produce their pads responsibly.

Mr. Tarun brought his business experience in renewable energy, materials, and penchant for improving the lives of the people to set up Saathi.

They sourced the banana fibers which were otherwise agricultural waste and convert them into something much more useful – pads that can degrade within six months.

Overall impact

Saathi mainly focuses on three domains through its invention – Biodegradable, Comfort, and Affordability. As the founder rightly claims the goal of the company is to help women at school and work together. Its motive has been to strive to have an impact both environmentally and socially in our holistic sustainable (cradle-to-cradle) supply chain.

It is known for manufacturing the first of its kind invention of 100% biodegradable sanitary pads made from banana fiber to reduce pad waste and make pads more accessible to more than 70% of women in India. Saathi’s innovative business model also increases low-income women’s access to pads. When women purchase Saathi pads, they subsidize the cost of pads for rural women.

In most of rural India, women do not have access to safe hygiene methods of using a proper sanitary napkin and even if they have access to it, most of them are not aware of the tons of waste that they are contributing to the heavily polluted country.

In most cases, especially in Rural India, plastics are not affordable, and hence as an alternative cotton napkin, tree barks are used which add to rising cases of Urinary Tract Infections in women in addition to rashes and other skin related infections.

Since there is no plastic content involved in the manufacturing process, it helps it in biodegradation of the pad in 6 months in a landfill. At the same time, it is more environmentally friendly since it avoids the usage of millions of tons of water in the process of cotton farming.

During the process of manufacturing, Saathi Pads ensures that the water that is consumed is recycled for banana plantation irrigation. And since the production of cotton is expensive in India where there are very limited areas that have black soil required for growing organic cotton, Saathi Pads with its unique invention chases this problem and uses banana fiber to reduce the costs of production involved. Banana fiber is grown with 6x less water and 10x less fertilizer than cotton and comes from a part of the banana tree that was traditionally discarded after harvest

Lastly, with Saathi’s innovative and sustainable business model, we aim to transform India by providing additional wages to farmers, good work environments for women, and environmentally-friendly and healthy products for customers.

Business benefit

The patent-pending processing technology of creating pads from banana fibers helps make more sustainable pads. They can reduce the pad waste which stands at a staggering amount of 150,000 tonnes each year with chances of increasing as the usage of sanitary pads increases.

Banana fibers can be grown with six times less water and ten times lesser fertilizers than cotton. It comes from the banana tree that is usually discarded post-harvest giving the added benefit of reducing agricultural waste. The technology converts the banana fibres into an ultra-soft material whose absorbency surpasses that of cotton and matches conventionally used bleached wood pulp.

They are also locally sourcing their banana fibers from Gujarat, which stands among the top banana manufacturing states in India currently, thereby making the best out of the huge amounts of agricultural waste that would have been otherwise discarded.

The higher quality of pads has also led to a very good amount of word of mouth publicity where the company believes in providing the best quality to the customers and also giving products which are best for their body and the environment.

They are also creating employment and income sources for rural women by hiring them and giving them skill training to be able to produce the sanitary pads. They have established their sales in multiple channels online as well as in offline modes.

They are also emphasizing available hypermarkets, pharmacies, and eco-oriented retailers. They are targeting women who are eco-conscious as well as women, who face skin irritation issues with traditional pads. They are a value creator in the organic pads segment where options are few and far in between.

Their focus on a circular economy not only enables them to make a superior quality product by using natural fibers but also reduces their input costs to some levels by using agricultural waste and biodegradable, sustainable products.

Social and environmental benefit

India currently generates 100,000+ tons of sanitary pad waste each year, and this even though only 18 % of Indian women use conventional sanitary pads. As the usage increases in future, so will the waste. Conventional sanitary pads are made of plastic and chlorine-bleached wood pulp, which is not skin-friendly and is harmful to the environment. Plastic pads take 600 years to degrade and are frequently disposed of by burning, generating CO2 and toxic fumes. Sanitary pad waste generation is potentially 1,000,000+ tons annually if every menstruating woman in India started using pads. Which is why they set off on an important mission -- to increase access to affordable, biodegradable, and non-toxic pads across India. The Saathi team uses banana fibre instead of chlorine-bleached wood pulp or cotton.

Saathi’s sanitary products are different from commercially available pads which are made out of the bleached wood pulp. A super absorbent polymer is also used in the commercial sanitary pads, which causes skin irritation. Saathi uses fibre from discarded banana trees. Nearly 12 lakh acres of banana trees are planted in India, and after each harvest, farmers cut down and discard the old trees to plant new ones. Saathi uses these discarded fibres and gives banana farmers extra income for their agro byproduct. It is also environmentally friendly as Saathi pads can degrade within six months and can also be used for compost and biogas.

Saathi is a TIME recognized 100 Best Inventions of 2019, Meaningful Business 100 of the year 2020.

Interview

Khushali Samriya, Public Relations

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Saathi Pads

Saathi Pads

Ahmedabad, Gujarat, IN

Business Website: https://www.saathipads.com

Year Founded: 2015

Number of Employees: 11 to 50

Saathi is the first company to make a 100% biodegradable sanitary pad from banana fiber. They believe in a cradle-to-cradle approach to women’s health that benefits women and their communities at every step. Their women-led team was founded in 2014 by MIT and Nirma graduate, Kristin, Tarun, and Grace. They are headquartered in Ahmedabad, India. Their production plant is women-operated.