In India, conversation around menstrual health is still taboo. The result is that only 12% of women in India use sanitary napkins. And even this 12% population isn’t aware of what goes into sanitary pads—as sanitary napkins in India are classified as ‘medical’ products, companies are not mandated by law to disclose what goes into their making. The result is napkins made using plastic, which make women susceptible to cervical cancer, urinary tract infection, rashes, etc. And this is where some entrepreneurs are stepping in. Take, for instance, New Delhi-based Deepanjali Dalmia, who recently started the sanitary pad brand, Heyday. What sets Heyday apart from conventional players in the market is the fact that it manufactures sanitary napkins using corn and bamboo fibre—the price for a pack of seven starts from Rs 85 and the napkins can be bought from the Heyday website and select stores in Delhi-NCR. “A Heyday sanitary napkin is made with highly-advanced technology,” says 25-year-old Dalmia. The raw material used—bamboo and corn fibre—is what makes the product sustainable and biodegradable. “Since the composition of a Heyday pack is completely natural and plant-based, the napkins start to decompose after six months of disposal,” says Dalmia.
Then there is Mumbai-based Nisha Bains who started Purganics in June this year. Purganics is a feminine hygiene products brand, which manufactures 100% cotton-based and biodegradable sanitary products. The sanitary napkins from Purganics even list the ingredients used—the price starts from Rs 400 for a pack of 10 and the napkins are available at all online stores and select offline stores in Mumbai and Bengaluru. “Ours is not a cloth-based product… it’s all natural. Our composition is largely organic. The wrapper and the waterproof backing in the pads are made of cotton starch. For the top layer, we use a patented technology, which is 100% organic cotton,” says 41-year-old Bains. Purganics uses cotton certified by the Global Organic Textile Standards, the world’s leading processing standard for organic textiles and fibres. “We follow a very strict quality-control process. We source from Turkey, the US and from some parts of India as well… places that have the best quality,” says Bains.
Besides Purganics and Heyday, there are other players as well making a mark in the segment. Take, for instance, Saral Designs. A Mumbai-based start-up, which manufactures menstrual hygiene products for women, it was founded by IITians Suhani Mohan and Kartik Mehta in 2015. Saral Designs’ sanitary pads are 70% biodegradable, with plans to make the product 100% biodegradable soon. “The core layer—the absorbent—is made of wood pulp and sap, and is biodegradable. There are some layers which aren’t 100% biodegradable… But a few replacements have come up and are under tests,” says 27-year-old Mohan. Saral Designs gets its raw material from certified manufacturers across the globe. “We have manufacturing partners in Asia and Europe, where the napkins are produced… these are shipped to India for final testing, packaging and distribution. We get our raw material from certified manufacturers who supply to global MNCs. The wood pulp is from the US. It is compressed in a paper form in China and then it comes to us. For other raw materials, there are a few suppliers in India whom we source from,” says Mohan. Their napkins are priced upwards of Rs 200 for a pack of 36 and are available at select online stores.
The lack of sanitary hygiene and the rising accumulation of waste in the country drove Bains, Mohan and Dalmia to start their respective ventures. “Every year, 9,000 tonnes (432 million pads) of soiled sanitary waste is dumped in acres of landfills with no solution for decomposition, thereby harming the environment endlessly. I saw this as a major issue and took on the challenge of finding a better answer to this problem,” says Dalmia. The major challenge for these ventures is the competition in the market. Plastic is a cheap raw material and available in abundance, whereas organic raw material is expensive and difficult to procure. Mohan, however, says an environmentally-conscious world is the only way ahead. “It’s going to take time for such sanitary napkins to get hold of the market, but as people become more conscious and aware, it will happen,” she says.