The Goan Village Women Helping Mitigate Plastic Pollution by Making Eco-friendly Sanitary Pads

The Sakhi sanitary pad is completely natural, comprising pinewood fibre, non-woven cloth, and butter paper. lt composts in eight days. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

The Sakhi sanitary pad is completely natural, comprising
pinewood fibre, non-woven cloth, and butter paper. lt composts in
eight days. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
PILGAON/GOA, India, Jun 30 2020 (IPS)

Jayashree Parwar has not traveled much outside of her village of
Bicholim in the western coastal Indian state of Goa. But the
homemaker-turned-social-entrepreneur has been reaching women in
dozens of cities across the country with a hygiene product she
makes at home along with women from her community.

Called Sakhi (friend in Hindi), the plastic-free sanitary pad is
Goa’s first menstrual hygiene product made with organic
materials.

Plastic challenge of sanitary pads

According to a 2018
joint report by Water Aid India and the Menstrual Hygiene Alliance
of India
, women and girls here use a whopping 12 billion
sanitary pads annually. Depending on the materials used in the
making of the sanitary pads, they could take up to 800 years to
decompose, the report says.

Currently, most sanitarypads have over 90 percent
composition plastics — the equivalent of four plastic bags.

Parwar doesn’t know these statistics very well but is aware of
the growing plastic nuisance in her state.

“Wherever you go, there is plastic. You can go to any beach
and there are heaps of plastic. A lot of it like cups, bottles,
spoons etc are used by tourists and hotels, but we locals also use
a lot of plastic, especially the carry bags for shopping,†she
tells IPS, before adding that the eco-friendly Sakhi sanitary
pads are her own way of mitigating the plastic challenge.

Goa may be one of the smallest states in India but it produces 7,300 tons of plastic waste annually. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Goa may be one of the smallest states in India but it produces
7,300 tons of plastic waste annually. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

“A small step to reduce a big burdenâ€

Parwar’s journey of a thousand pads started in the summer of
2015 in the narrow, tin-roofed hut adjoining her living room that
she calls her ‘workshop’.

Three other women from her community joined her. They all share
a similar background: none of them have studied beyond high school;
they are from a low income group; and they all have dreams of a
better life for their family and children.

Their resources were few: a few hundred rupees as their capital
and a compressing machine donated by local doctor Subbu Nayak.
Nayak also trained them in pad making and connected them with a raw
material supplier in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu.

The process is fairly simple and making a single sanitary pad
takes around five minutes, explains Nasreen Sheikh, one of
Parwar’s colleagues.

“First we grind the pinewood fibre, then put it into a mould,
press it and wrap it in (non-woven) cloth, sticking butter paper on
one side and finally we sterilise it,†Sheikh tells IPS.

However, although they had a machine and the skills, a crucial
component was still missing. They had no customers.

Fortunately for them, support came from different quarters,
including the government’s Urban Development Department. Sumit
Singh, an official from the department who leads the Clean India
Mission, taught Parwar and her partners how to market themselves
online with retailers like Amazon.

Parwar and her colleagues had no prior business experience and
limited resources. They naturally saw online marketing as an
exciting opportunity.

“We chose to sell on Amazon because none of us have the time
or means to go out and market (the sanitary pads) in stores or
malls. Besides, online we can have clients even outside of Goa,â€
Parwar says.

After four years of struggling to build the business and develop
a steady customer base, along with numerous failed attempts to
secure bank loans to grow their business, the women finally managed
to expand beyond the narrow tin shed to a bigger room (their
factory) where they now make a thousand pads every month.

“We are only making a 1,000 pads in a month, so it’s a very
small step, but I believe every small step counts,†Parwar
says.

Jayashree Parwar and her partners have been making plastic-free sanitary pads in Goa, and have sold them to clients in the India’s cities like Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad and New Delhi. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Jayashree Parwar and her partners have been making plastic-free
sanitary pads in Goa, and have sold them to clients in the
India’s cities like Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad and New
Delhi. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Growing demand for plastic-free

They have received orders from bigger cities like Mumbai, Pune,
Bangalore, Hyderabad and New Delhi. Unlike known brands and
corporate manufacturers, Parwar’s group doesn’t have the
ability to advertise, but word of mouth, social media and a growing
environmental consciousness have helped them, she says.

“We use materials that are completely natural: pinewood fibre,
non-woven cloth, butter paper. There is nothing there to cause
itching or skin rashes and once you dispose it, this pad will
compost in eight days. We have given demonstration in many schools
and other organisations. People have tried it and seen how the
composting really works,†Alita Pilgaonkar, another member of the
group, tells IPS. 

The sanitary pads also decompose in about two weeks.  

Eight sanitary pads cost 40 rupees and bulk pack containing 96
pads costs 700 rupees. They are cheaper than most popular brands
but the women say that they manage to make a small profit.

Reusable vs compostable

Could a total shift to plastic-free sanitary pads be a
possibility and could it curb the ever-increasing plastic
burden?

Ideally, it is possible, but the willpower seems to be currently
missing, Kathy Walkling, co-founder of Ecofemme, tells IPS.  Ecofemme is
another women-led initiative that makes eco-friendly menstrual
hygiene products. Based in Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry) on the
country’s southern coast, Ecofemme produces and advocates for
reusable sanitary pads that are both plastic-free and
affordable.

“If government would back these initiatives, this could have a
powerful effect to make a mainstream shift,†Walkling tells
IPS.

But Eline Bakker Kruijne, an environmental engineer and formerly
a programme officer at Netherlands-based international think-tank
IRC WASH, tells IPS that no significant changes are possible
without changing the current disposal system.

Pointing at the practice of treating discarded menstrual
products, whether organic or plastic, as hazardous and burning
them, Bakker Kruijne says that single-use pads are of no help as
incineration only adds to pollution levels.

“It is all about how these single-use materials break down in
the environment and if it requires an industrial process (like
incineration), does it really help us?†Bakker Kruijne asks.

Walkling also says that single-use menstrual products, even if
compostable, add to the daily waste volume. But public preference
is currently tilted heavily towards these single-use pads as people
see them as more hygienic than reusables.

However,  both the experts feel that moving away from plastic is
a positive step.

“With each person who shifts to a reusable and non polluting
product, approx 125 kg of sanitary waste per person over a lifetime
of use will be prevented. There are currently approx 355 million
menstruating girls and women in India and if each uses 10
pads/month this would generate 42.6 billion pads every year
(355million*10pads*12 months).

“Obviously given these numbers, more women switching to
re-usable products makes a significant difference,†Walking tells
IPS.

Meanwhile, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the lockdown that has
severely affected India’s economic sector has not left the
producers of the Sakhi  sanitary pads unaffected. Their main
supplier in Coimbatore, in south India, stopped operations, almost
forcing the women out of business. However, they have recently
managed to find another supplier in Mumbai.

Sales have also decreased, but Parwar is confident of recovering
quickly once the crisis is over. Because, as she says, women’s
“periods will not stopâ€.

The post
The Goan Village Women Helping Mitigate Plastic Pollution by Making
Eco-friendly Sanitary Pads
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
The Goan Village Women Helping Mitigate Plastic Pollution by
Making Eco-friendly Sanitary Pads