Female hygiene is an often ignored aspect of health, and even in 2019, there are a number of gynaecological health issues that still have limited research around the world. Because of such a limited perspective on the ‘taboo’ topic of periods, we tend to forget that India has 336 million menstruating women; of them, 36% use disposable sanitary napkins.
Thus, the country is left with approximately 12.3 billion disposable sanitary napkins every year, most of which are not biodegradable and end up stuffing our landfills.
But two IIT Delhi boys, Archit Agarwal and Harry Sehrawat, have come up with a great solution – affordable, reusable and biodegradable sanitary napkins made of banana fibre that can last for up to 120 washes or two years!
Why do we need reusable and biodegradable sanitary napkins?
“Disposable sanitary napkins are mostly made of synthetic materials and plastic, which can take more than 50-60 years to decompose,” explains Archit Agarwal, co-founder of female hygiene brand Sanfe, and now in his fourth year at IIT Delhi.
“This enormous amount of menstrual waste is usually dumped in landfills, thrown in open spaces and water bodies, burnt, buried (shallow burial) or flushed down toilets,” he says.
Each of these disposal techniques create a hazard for the environment. For instance, burning releases carcinogenic fumes in the form of dioxins creating an air pollution hazard, and putting this waste in landfills only adds to the burden of waste, he says.
“The only solution to such a grave problem is switching to reusable and environmentally friendly sanitary pads which are biodegradable,” says Archit.
“It is time for Indian women to stand for our life-giving planet with smart yet green choices. It is time for them to now switch to reusable or biodegradable sanitary napkin,” he adds.
What did they discover about sanitary napkin-use on talking to Indian women?
To do their research for this biodegradable sanitary napkin, they spoke with Indian women they knew from various sections of society to understand their hygiene practice during periods.
“We especially spoke to women in our families, even grandmothers and came to know that using cloth was a common practice in older generations and is still a common practice in rural and semi-rural areas,” says Archit.
It’s shocking that only 18% women in India have access to sanitary hygiene. Using ash, coconut husk, sand, cow dung, or simply cotton cloth during menstruation has been the practice for majority for eons. It still continues.
Since most Indian women are in a fixed habit of reusing menstruation product for decades, the IIT Delhi boys thought of coming up with a sanitary pad which did not push women for a habit change.
“We wanted to create a reusable sanitary napkin that fit into their current habit in the most hygienic, sustainable and comfortable manner allowing an easy green switch,” says Archit.
Since the majority of the existing reusable sanitary pads in India are made of cotton or cloth, these are cumbersome to use and not very efficient. This led them to look for natural alternatives and they came across the idea of leveraging the strength of banana fibre.
“Banana fibre has excellent absorption properties and composite banana fibre allowed us to make pads which are hygienic, easy to wash and quick dry,” explains Archit.
The extended life of these sanitary napkins can help in curbing the environment hazard of disposed sanitary pads to a great extent.
How are these banana fibre reusable and biodegradable sanitary napkins created?
Archit and Harry discussed their idea with several IIT Delhi professors and used their inputs to develop India’s first reusable sanitary pad made with composite banana fibre.
“These reusable pads are ultra-thin and are highly absorbent having Quadrant True Lock Technology which makes the product leak-proof and rash-free,”
They are just like disposable sanitary napkins but can be used again by washing it in cold water with detergent for up to two years. A patent has also been filed for these reusable pads.
The sanitary napkins are made up of four layers of different fabrics:
Polyester Pilling fabric is highly wicking and doesn’t absorb the fluid, giving a dry experience throughout the day time
Terry and Banana Fibres including viscose and Polyester Fibres make these napkins highly absorbent
Cotton Polyurethane Laminate is a breathable layer in the pad with water resistant properties to offer leak proof experience
How can you get this reusable and biodegradable sanitary napkin?
The banana fibre sanitary napkins made by the IIT Delhi-incubated startup are highly affordable and cost Rs. 199 for a pack of two pads which lasts up to two years. The product is available on Amazon.
The Sanfe boys are also urging government organisations and NGOs, who regularly distribute subsidised disposable sanitary napkins in rural and semi-urban areas across the country, to shift to these banana fibre reusable sanitary napkins as it could save up to 75% of the cost incurred.
This step has already been taken in African countries where government bodies and NGOs have started distributing reusable sanitary napkins to school girls.
Sanfe: India’s new-age female hygiene innovation brand
This isn’t the first time that IIT Delhi-incubated startup – Sanfe – has come out with thoughtful female hygiene products. They also created the stand-and-pee device for women costing only Rs 10, and a roll-on balm for relief from period pain.
Sanfe was the brainchild of two BTech students from IIT Delhi — Archit Agarwal (CEO) and Harry Sehrawat (COO) — when they were in their second year.
A trip to the mountains where one of their female friends contracted a Urinary Tract Infection caused by the use of a dirty public washroom made them aware of a common problem faced by over 50 percent of women in India.
And so, they turned their attention towards creating affordable and sustainable female hygiene products.
“After deep and extensive research, we reached out to Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), Department of Bio Technology and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited who saw potential in the brand and decided to support the Sanfe team with seed funding,” says Archit Agarwal.
The company is recognized by Government of India under Startup India programme and is covered by Sulabh International.
Stand and pee device: The stand and pee device for women helps them avoid unhygienic public washrooms and liberates them from the constant burden of withholding their urge to pee. The product is ideal for pregnant women, women with arthiritis, differently abled, to be used at public toilets at railway stations, trains and bus terminals etc.
Period pain relief roll-on: Sanfe’s period pain relief roll-on is very popular among young girls, homemakers and working women who want to combat pain and discomfort during menstruation. It is an oil-based natural formulation which can be applied on cramp-affected areas like lower abdominal area, lower back and legs.
Published on indiatoday.in and written by Roshni Chakrabarty