Saathi has developed a 100% biodegradable all-natural sanitary pad from banana tree fiber to prove a cradle to cradle manufacturing model.
Summary / Résumé
Saathi has developed a patent pending technology to convert fiber into absorbent material which we are currently using for 100% compostable and biodegradable all-natural sanitary pad made from banana tree fiber. Banana fiber is one of the most absorbent natural fibers and abundant in India. Unlike wood pulp or cotton, it is an agricultural by-product and does not require additional land usage. Our all-natural pads do not contain any bleach or chemicals to minimize skin irritation and the release of toxins into the environment upon disposal. In addition to reducing health effects on women, Saathi pads degrade within 6 months of disposal, 1200 times faster than conventional pads, and eliminate the need for incineration, reducing CO2 production. We eliminate 60 kg of pad waste, per woman, in her lifetime. Our goal is to adapt this technology to other absorbent hygiene products.
What actions do you propose? / Quelles actions proposez-vous?
We propose to both adapt this to new products as well as reach more women who don't have access to sanitary pads in rural areas of India.
With only 16% of Indian women using sanitary pads today, women in India currently generate 100,000+ tons of sanitary pad waste each year. As sanitary pad usage increases, waste will increase as well. Conventional sanitary pads are made of primarily plastic and chlorine-bleached wood pulp, which causes some women skin irritation & is harmful for the environment upon disposal. Plastic pads take 600-800 years to degrade, and worse, are frequently burned for disposal, generating CO2 & toxic carcinogenic fumes. The potential sanitary pad waste generation is 1,000,000+ tons annually if every menstruating woman in India started using pads, consequences of which would be overflowing landfills, increased CO2 & dioxin levels. India already has one of the highest rates of women getting cervical cancer. It is estimated that the average women generates 120-150 kg of pad waste in her lifetime. Looking to the future as sanitary pad usage is increased in India, access to affordable, biodegradable, non-toxic pads is essential.
We at Saathi are planning to provide products that are good for the body, environment, and community. We are starting with sanitary pads, as they are an essential need for women. Saathi has developed and sells the first 100% biodegradable and compostable all-natural sanitary pads made from waste banana tree fiber. Saathi adopts a cradle-to- cradle approach that employs innovative materials, reduces plastic waste, and advances labor practices, enabling Saathi to be a first mover in the world with such a sustainable business model targeting the eco-conscious consumer market for feminine hygiene products. Not only are we reaching women in cities, but our #onemillionpads program works with the NGO, Ekal Vidyalaya and Arogya Foundation to educate low income/education women about feminine hygiene and about the benefits of Saathi’s product.
We have two types of customers:
Middle & upper class urban women
NGOs that purchase our pads to distribute among women in the villages.
Saathi pads are accessible to all women with our two-pronged pricing scheme. Our business model is to sell pads at a premium in urban India and use that to sell our pads at cost in rural India.
We also want to get the pads to as many women as possible as quickly as possible. Therefore, we have decided to exclusively work through NGOs, who have both pre-existing distribution networks and can couple distribution with general menstrual hygiene education.
Which types of stakeholders are involved, in which way? / Quels types de parties prenantes sont impliqués, de quelle façon?
For distribution in rural areas we are working with our partner NGO, Ekal Vidyalaya and Arogya Foundation to distribute sanitary pads to girls and women in rural Jharkhand under our initiative called #OneMillionPads and for impact studies we have partnered with 4th Wheel.
Farmer community and Banana Cooperatives
Funding and Mentorship
Innovation Accelerators, Entrepreneur Society & Educational Institutes
D-lab, Asia Society, MIT, HBS etc
UNIDO, GEF, Hello Tomorrow, Canadian Government, BNP Paribas, Loreal
Impact Study Partners
#onemillionpads program partners listed separately for clarity:
4th Wheel: for measuring impact of distributing eco-friendly biodegradable sanitary pads
Ekal Vidyalaya, Arogya Foundation: NGOs for connecting to sevikas for distribution in villages
LGSS: for training on menstrual hygiene
How could the actions be scaled up at the neighborhood or city level? / Comment serait-il possible d'augmenter la portée des actions à l'échelle des quartiers ou de la ville?
We first need to distribute our pads more widely through retail channels in the major cities in India. Then we would like to collaborate at the city level with waste management organizations to develop solutions for composting the sanitary pads.
What impact will these actions have on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change? / Quels impacts auront ces actions sur la réduction des émissions de gaz à effet de serre et l'adaptation aux changements climatiques?
Since start of sales in May 2017, we have distributed hundreds of thousands of pads across India and have strived to have impact both environmentally and socially in our holistic sustainable (cradle-to-cradle) supply chain. Our pads are good for the environment, because they do not end up as plastic waste: after disposal in a waste bin, they can degrade within three to six months - 1200 times faster than their conventional counterparts. We have already saved 6 metric tons of plastic waste and project that, by 2023, Saathi will reduce plastic waste by at least 9,212 metric tons based on our scale up production. We have already saved 7 metric tons of CO2 emissions and project that by 2023, we will reduce CO2 emissions by at least 10,849 metric tons.
What are the other environmental, economic or social benefits? / Quels sont les autres bénéfices environnementaux, économiques et sociaux?
Our pads are also good for the community. In rural communities, 1 in 6 women miss about a month of work each year due to lack of access to modern feminine hygiene products. We enable girls and women in rural Jharkhand to have access to affordable, clean, biodegradable menstruation products which ensures that they have a rash-free, hygienic menstrual cycle and allows them to participate in social/economic activity. Saathi is using urban sales to subsidize pads for rural women, where menstruation is still a taboo subject. Saathi has already reached 2,605 women and will increase access to sanitary pads for 1.5 million women by 2023. Not only are we improving the lives of the product’s end users, we are also helping to support stakeholders further up the value chain. We buy agro-waste from banana tree farmers, who can earn extra income by selling the waste which normally would be thrown on the side of the road. We have already increased banana farmers’ income by 3.24M INR and will increase wages to banana farmers by 127,037 million INR by 2023. We also employ low-income women in the manufacturing of our pads. Our goal is to employ 73,517 low-income women by 2023. With our 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.
What are the most innovative aspects and main strengths of this approach? / Quels sont les aspects novateurs et les principales forces de cette approche?
- Cradle to cradle manufacturing
- Impact along the entire supply chain from raw material to production to the customers health to disposal
- It is applicable to multiple regions due to banana fiber being grown locally in other countries
- It is applicable to multiple products as well
What are the proposal’s projected costs? / Quels sont les coûts projetés de la proposition?
We plan to scale up manufacturing in order to meet the growing demand and be able to serve the global market. We are also working on other products using our patented technology.
We have calculated that we need $200,000 USD to complete our #onemillionpads program to distribute pads in rural Jharkhand.
What are the potential challenges or obstacles? / Quels sont les défis ou les obstacles potentiels?
- Market leaders developing eco-friendly/organic SKUs.
Unable to scale manufacturing quickly enough due to lack of funds.
Mislabelling of non-biodegradable products as biodegradable confuses consumers, New entrants
About the authors / À propos des auteur(e)s
Saathi began in 2015, when its 4 Co-Founders, Kristin Kagetsu, Tarun Bothra, Amrita Saigal & Grace Kane - graduates of MIT, Harvard & Nirma University - came together on a mission to create fully eco-friendly, compostable sanitary napkins using locally sourced banana fiber from the state of Gujarat, where Saathi is based. We were inspired by the idea of improving women's access to sanitary pads in India. Both Amrita and Tarun have personal experiences with a family member who was affected by having to face the taboos around menstrual hygiene in India. Kristin was passionate about making a product that impacts women and had previously commercialized and launched sustainable natural-dye crayons made by local artisans in Uttarakhand, India. Grace was also passionate about sustainable product design. We were all motivated by the potential to make a positive difference for women in India while using an engineering approach focused on ecology and sustainability.