Women and Technology

100% Bio-degradable Sanitary Napkins from Banana Fibers

By Saathi

Location

India

Team Leader

Kristin Kagetsu

Our solution:

Saathi has developed the world’s first 100% biodegradable and compostable sanitary pads made from waste banana tree fiber that empower marginalized communities. Our product has health benefits for the women who use it, we're supporting farmers with an additional source of income and we're reducing women's carbon footprint.

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Our pitch:

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The problem:

Commercial pads contain toxic chemicals which are released into the environment when disposed of, and collect in landfills without breaking down. With only 16% of Indian women using sanitary pads (the rest use old rags, mud and bark), a staggering 108,000 tons of pad waste is created annually– enough to cover a landfill of 24 hectares. The Indian government plans to increase sanitary pad usage since lack of access to affordable pads is the leading reason for higher dropout rates of school aged girls. Saathi believes that we don't have to compromise between the health of women and the environment.

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Why our solution will solve the problem:

The vision is to be a role model in sustainable manufacturing. We will be able to build out a product line of compostable hygiene products. Where possible, manufacturing will be localized and use exclusively indigenous materials to provide extra income to local farmers and suppliers, and create jobs. We aim to be a model employer for women and make sure they have equal opportunity.

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Our solution's stage of development:

Growth

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Target Outcomes

Our target outcomes:

We plan to measure impact by tracking the number of women provided Saathi pads at a subsidized rate since they are sold at a discounted rate to NGOs through a subsidy funded by our urban sales.

We plan to measure the amount of plastic pad waste saved and eliminated. Both are determined by the number of units sold since we know the composition and weight of our competitor’s plastic products. 

We plan to measure the extra income given to banana farmers. We plan to buy fiber directly from farming collectives and measure income generated by the amount of fiber purchased. 

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How we will measure our progress:

  • Outcome: 6000 women in Jharkhand get subsidized pads and see what it is like to have biodegradable sanitary pads and if it positively impacts their life.
    Measurement Plan: Running an impact study with women in Jharkhand in partnership with our NGO partner and impact study partner to determine whether women are able to spend more time at work or in school and/or they are willing to pay for the product in the future
  • Outcome: Increased number of repeat orders and increased number of urban customers so that we are able to support subsidies in rural areas
    Measurement Plan: Track how many people order more than once from our online store and track sales
  • Outcome: Support 3-5 farmer collectives while we scale up
    Measurement Plan: Calculate the amount of fiber purchased and determine how many farmers were effected.
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The populations we will benefit initially:

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Non-binary
  • Urban
  • Rural
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The regions we will benefit initially:

  • South Asia
  • US and Canada
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The countries we will benefit initially:

  • India
  • Nepal
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
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Technology

The technologies we employ:

  • Chemistry/chemical engineering
  • Environmental engineering
  • Manufacturing & process optimization
  • Management & design approaches
  • Mechanical engineering and hardware
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Why our solution is unique:

Saathi is India’s first compostable pad made from banana fibres and absolutely zero chemicals. Saathi does all local sourcing/manufacturing and is the only sanitary pad company to consider the entire product lifecycle. The only other eco-friendly pad manufacturer is Aakar Innovations which has small-scale manufacturing units run by groups of rural women. Nurture is a leading eco-friendly brand but they are imported and made with cotton, which uses six times the amount of water and ten times the amount of fertilizer as bananas. Saathi's compostable product will be accessible to women across income levels and benefit the local economy.

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Why our solution is human-centered:

Ultimately we are applying cradle to cradle manufacturing and circular economy principles to manufacturing sanitary pads and other personal hygiene products. This problem is broken into many pieces. Our pads are tried and tested by women across India who have given feedback for issues we know our scale up plan will help solve. As for the supply chain, farmers currently toss the banana fiber so this can be an additional source of income. As for the environmental impact, only 16% of Indian women use pads but that is increasing rapidly and the sooner people switch to sustainable options, the better.

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How people will access our solution:

Pads in urban India are currently sold on our website and will be sold via other ecommerce and retail options in the future. The scale up plan will reduce raw material and manufacturing cost which will make the pads more affordable. We locally source banana fibre and other biodegradable materials to create pads that degrade within 6 months of disposal- 1200x faster than plastic pads. Each woman purchasing Saathi pads saves 60 kg of pad waste over her lifetime, and subsidizes pads for low-income women.

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Technology-Readiness Level:

9 (Commercial)
2
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Our website

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Business Plan

Our organization:

For-Profit

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Where we are located:

India
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How we will sustain our team financially:

To date, we have won a number of business plan competitions and grants, we are still applying for those and we have a couple angel investors. We are speaking to a few more investors. We also have some revenue from the pads we are making currently.

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The factors limiting our success:

Sourcing enough raw material from India and the high capital investment required to setup fully-automated production are our top challenges. We use unconventional materials and want to maintain local sourcing, but there are a limited number of suppliers in India. We are working diligently to both identify new suppliers and increase the production capacity of our long-standing suppliers. In order to scale-up to fully-automated production and fulfill our surplus demand, we will require a significant capital investment. Our CFO is solely dedicated to raising the required capital in equity and grant investments.

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How long we have been working on our solution:

3 years
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How long it will take to develop a pilot:

We have already developed a pilot.
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How long it will take to scale beyond our pilot:

6-12 months
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Our expected annual budget:

$1000000

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How much of our budget we've secured to date:

$200000

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Partnership Needs

We're looking for partners in these fields:

  • Income Generation
  • General Wellness
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Net-zero Carbon
  • Resilient Design
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Why we're applying to Solve:

We are excited to be part of the Solve community to gain access to mentors and potential investors who can help us scale our production so that we can achieve sustainability as a business and expand our impact. Once this business is sustainable, we can develop other products and increase our environmental impact. The Solve community will be able to propel our idea forward faster because of it's association with MIT.

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Our current partners:

In the rural and urban slum areas, NGOs purchase Saathi pads to resell or distribute for free. Through our current NGO partnership, we provide menstrual hygiene education and pads to thousands of women in rural Jharkhand. Another organization is helping us run the impact study and train the healthcare workers.

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