Sustainable biodegradable pads solving the biggest problems in India

SAATHI menstrual banana fibre pads. A new period is about to start in India

Saathi Pads is a recently created brand with a long story. A little group of students found the round solution for a “natural” matter in India. Eco-friendly pads that use a natural resource of the country: banana fibre. They improve health for women, education, familiar economy and, last but not least, more business for local farmers. These sustainable biodegradable pads recycled can also produce electricity or fuel.

INDIA. The myths, taboos, religious and cultural beliefs, as well as the lack of education are the de cause of rejected females by their families once a month. Girls and women are often seen as impure and dirty when they have their period. This is a belief that dates back to the Vedic times when the oldest Hindu scriptures were written.

Women and girls often have to sleep separately, to avoid physical contact with others. Also, they have to follow dietary restrictions. They will miss work, religious services and social events. They would even be strict to cook for their sons, as they are considered too “unclean.”

Even worse: they will miss school, if not dropping out forever.

indian women work problems

A tough venture: creating sustainable biodegradable pads

Amrita Saigal is one of the initial founders of Saathi pads. After she came back from her internship in P&G, she recruited 15 classmates to design a low-cost machine that women in Rwanda, in Africa, could use to manufacture sanitary pads with local materials.

During the venture, collaborators would desist. Few team members kept working on the idea and elaborated a senior thesis project. Months later and fewer people involved, they wrote a business plan aimed at selling the machines in rural India.

saathi pads team checking banana fiber

Pitch after pitch, they raised several thousands of dollars in competitions and awards. Eventually, they partnered with engineering experts until they raised a $50,000 grand prize in the Harvard Business School New Venture Competition.

But when the business started to take off, they found a major obstacle: organisations were already making similar equipment and struggled to expand. The teammates concluded that they couldn’t offer a machine significantly different from others on the market.

The biggest problems, the biggest opportunities

They found their opportunity by realising that most commercial pads require the waste of trees! As they were working towards sustainability, they knew non-biodegradable polymers could take over.

500 years to decompose. In India, contamination is a big problem: not just because the country creates 43,000 tons of plastic waste just with commercial pads, but also because there is no such as a garbage system in the country. To avoid dogs and other animals to reach the used pads for the garbage, women frequently bury or burn their sanitary supplies (releasing toxins into the air and soil.)

So instead of building machines, the team decided to produce high-quality, biodegradable sanitary pads that people could compost or throw into a biodigester to create electricity or fuel.

The team started again with research and testing. They found the way to process the long strands of banana fibre to maximise absorbency. Today Saathi pads are a 50% more absorbent than commercial pads and biodegrade completely in three to six months.

saathi banana fiber pads production

Unlike most commercial pads, Saathi’s are not bleached or treated with chemicals like chloroform and styrene, which are suspected carcinogens.

Also, the primary product of these sustainable biodegradable pads is banana-tree fibre. Because it is a locally sourced material that would otherwise go to waste, Saathi also generates a new revenue for area banana farmers.

banana fiber

Saathi currently employs ten women in its production facility and plans to distribute 1,000,000 pads by mid-2018.

“We know that when we distribute these pads in these villages, they’re not going to stick around in the soil for 500 years; and that’s a pretty cool impact.”

Grace Kane – co-founder Saathi Pads



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