Sisal leaves make sanitary napkins more sustainable in India

News Excerpt: 

A team at Stanford University has found the absorption capacity of a sisal-based material to be higher than that of commercial menstrual pads.

About Sisal Leaves:

Sisal has an uncanny ability to store water and thrive in drought-prone areas. 

  • Its leaves grow up to 2 m long. 
  • The lifespan of a sisal plant is about 7-10 years, during which it produces 200-250 usable leaves. 
  • Each leaf has about a thousand fibres that can be used to make ropes, paper, and cloth. Now, it could be used to make a highly absorbed material as well.
  • The plants grow best in moderately rich soil with good drainage and in warm moist climates.
  • In India, sisal is mainly found in Orissa, Maharashtra and southern states.

Why there is a need for Sisal Leaves Sanitary pads:

  • Hygienic methods for use: In 2022, the Centre for Economic Data and Analysis reported that there has been a significant rise in the number of people using hygienic methods – i.e. sanitary napkins, tampons, and menstrual cups – to manage their menstruation in India.
  • Access to hygiene products being limited: Despite this promising growth, access to menstrual hygiene products remains limited for around 500 million people worldwide.
    • For example, In rural India, only 42% of adolescent women use exclusively hygienic methods to manage their periods.
  • Rising cost of raw materials: One key barrier in making menstrual hygiene products, like sanitary napkins, accessible is the rising cost of raw materials and distribution.
    • Even as State and Central governments in India are working to make sanitary napkins widely available at lower prices, experts say their widespread use is environmentally unsustainable.
  • Waste of Sanitary pads: According to gynaecologists, “Menstrual sanitation waste is adding non-biodegradable waste in the environment [in bulk],” and in turn, constitutes an environmental hazard.
    • For example, according to estimates from a 2022 United Nations Population Fund report, Patna alone discards 9.8 billion sanitary napkins every year. 
    • Another estimate from a 2022 study placed the monthly quantity of discarded sanitary napkins in Chennai at 27 million a month.
  • Single-use sanitary napkins: They contain dioxin, which is a persistent environmental pollutant as well as a carcinogen that puts users of sanitary napkins at risk of cancer.
    • The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies dioxin as a “known human carcinogen”.

About Sanitary Napkins from Sisal Leaves:

  • Before sisal, there is the testing of fibrous plants. 
  • To make menstrual hygiene products more environmentally sustainable, scientists at Stanford University have reported a method to produce from sisal leaves a “highly absorbent and retentive material”.
  • As a result, the researchers posit in their Nature Communications Engineering paper, the material can potentially replace cotton, wood pulp, and chemical absorbents in sanitary napkins.
  • The absorption capacity of the material is higher than those found in commercial menstrual pads
    • The absorbent material in sanitary napkins is often a combination of wood pulp and synthetic superabsorbent polymers (SAPs).  
  • The study’s authors also claim that their method uses no polluting or toxic chemicals, can be carried out locally at a small scale, and is environmentally sustainable.


Way Forward:

  • Global Program For Students: This will help in testing the usability of other plants with this process.
  • As a Pilot Site: Nepal will be chosen as a pilot site to teach anybody and everybody interested in replicating this process at scale.
  • Partnering: The team will partner with organisations in Nigeria, Kenya, and Nepal to implement “distributed quality control” of the absorbent material. 
  • Local Manufacturers: Instead of relying on large-scale centralized production, manufacturers work at smaller scales and cater to local populations. 
    • Distributed manufacturing also eliminates carbon emissions due to long-distance transportation.


Book A Free Counseling Session

What's Today