New Delhi: Did you know, on an average, women use around 10,000 sanitary napkins in their lifetime. Conventional pads contain up to 90 per cent plastic and remain intact in the landfill for around 600-800 years after disposal. Most pads contain around 3.5g of petrochemical plastic with every sanitary pad releasing around 21 grams of carbon dioxide in the process. With only 1 in 6 women using pads in India, around 150,000 tons of pad waste is generated per year. In a bid to control this plastic waste, Surat-based Sparkle sanitary pads are one-of-a kind as these are made of banana fibre which is entirely biodegradable.
Selected as one of the top five ‘Most Innovative Start-up’ in the health category, by San Francisco based Tech Crunch Disrupt 2019, Sparkle sanitary pads was founded in 2018 by spouses Chirag and Hetal Virani who came up the concept after travelling to developing countries in Africa and Asia. He told NDTV,
I was based in Canada for 11 years and after completing my Engineering and MBA, in 2011 I travelled to a lot of developing countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Vietnam among others. After travelling to these countries, I had a first-hand realisation about serious socio-economic challenges women have to face during periods due to lack of access to sanitary pads and my wife and I thought that we needed to do something about it. On the other hand, after I got married my wife often used to donate sanitary napkins to underprivileged women.
Along with realising the need to help women have access to eco-friendly menstrual hygiene products, Hetal said that she has herself faced issues like rashes, irritation and Urinary Tract Infections due to the plastic present in the conventional pads she has used. Hetal told NDTV,
Conventional pads contain plastics, synthetic fibres, artificial fragrances, deodorants, dyes and many other harsh chemicals that may be harmful to your health. Extremely sensitive permeable membranes of the vagina allow direct transfer of harmful toxins from conventional pads into your circulatory system. Since these pads remain in close contact with vaginal tissues for long durations, they can be seriously harmful for your health. On the other hand, hazards of plastic on the environment is no secret.
With the problem identified, the duo spent arduous hours and days on research, to come up with the perfect raw material to replace plastic in sanitary pads, Chirag explains,
India has about 8 lakh hectors of banana plantation and banana plants grow rapidly in just 9 to 12 months. Once bananas are harvested, these plants become agro waste. Farmers typically burn these discarded stems which pollutes the environment or they have to pay additional labour to remove them from their farms. We thought that this agro-waste has immense potential to transform into a sustainable raw material for making Sparkle pads. Banana farmers earn extra income on each harvest by selling us the banana stems or fibre.
To enable the use of banana fibre, in 2017, Chirag put his knowledge acquired during his Mechanical engineering days to developed a machine to do the task. On the other hand, Hetal who has an accounting background, worked on the number crunching to be able to bring the cost of the product down, and helped give feedback to her husband and market the product.
At present, there are two types of biodegradable pads being offered by Sparkle, with a maximum price of Rs. 23.50 per pad. In order to make sustainable sanitary pads accessible to everyone, Sparkle plans to launch more affordable biodegradable pads at Rs. 9.99 per pad in March, 2020. The sparkle pad has the ability to biodegrade within 140 days and the duo managed to sell more than 50,000 pads within a month of the launch of Sparkle Pads.
Our innovation is inspired by “Make In India” and “Swachh Bharat Mission”, we have the potential to transform over 64 million tonnes of banana stem agro waste into sanitary pads, baby diapers, decorative veneer, currency paper and organic fertilizer. We can also eliminate around 1 million tonnes of sanitary pad waste per year in India with this innovation. We hope banana fibre soon replaces plastic as the main component in sanitary pads, globally, Chirag said.
In addition to the eco-friendly nature of Sparkle pads, the couple also donates pads to underprivileged girls with every banana fibre pad purchase.
We work together with local schools, communities, and NGOs to distribute sanitary napkins and conduct menstrual hygiene awareness seminars, explained Chirag.
To know more about the product from a costumer point of view, NDTV reached out to some Sparkle users. Dr. Suhani B Patel from Ahemdabad says her motive for using the pad was supporting a cause and she doesn’t regret it. She said,
I gave sparkle pads a try because I love how this brand supports circular economy and donates pads to underprivileged girls. Their pads are really soft and comfortable. Finally, a brand with a great product and a greater initiative!
Prinsa Patel from Mandvi on the other hand couldn’t believe how soft these pads are, as she said,
Absolutely love how soft and comfortable these pads are. I have never tried a pad so soft, and individual disposable bags a really convenient. Sparkle is a complete package!
The Status of Menstrual Hygiene In India
In India, millions of girls and women miss up to 50-60 days of school or work every year because they cannot afford menstrual hygiene products. Due to high cost of sanitary napkins, over 200 million girls, especially, in rural communities of India rely on old rags, plastic or ash during their periods. Such unhealthy methods may cause infections, rashes, and many other serious health problems.