Maharashtra based social enterprises’ compostable pads are environment, pocket and women-friendly. It creates awareness about healthy menstrual practices and generates employment for rural women through its women-led mini-factories.
It’s that time of the month again; whispered little Pinky when she was handed out the list of “things not to do from now on”.
YES, I am speaking about “PERIODS”. But ssshhh… no one is supposed to know right?
Menstruation has always been clouded in misconceptions that have perpetuated over generations, especially in conservative communities.
Over the years, several attempts have been made by change-makers to “Break the silence” “End the taboo”, for “No shame periods”. Well, the silence has been broken and the conversations around menstruation are skyrocketing.
Of late, a new dimension has come to light. There’s a quiet revolution happening among the women in India for ‘GREEN MENSTRUATION’ for realising sustainable menstruation practices.
A woman generates up to 125 kg of non-biodegradable waste through her menstruating years.
Pretty astonishing right?
Now comprehend the implications of 353 million women generating 44,125 million Kg of menstruating waste.
It doesn’t take a genius to do the math of the amount of plastic waste we are leaving behind and how devastating it is for the environment. Thus, one question that we should ask ourselves: IS THERE NO BETTER CHOICE?
For those who can afford it, there are alternatives like menstrual cups, period underwear, reusable cloth, etc. And for those in search of environment-friendly pads, Aakar Innovations’ ANANDI pad is India’s 1st certified, fully compostable sanitary napkin.
The Beginning Of The Transformation
Aakar Innovations is the brainchild of Mr Jaydeep Mandal that was conceived in 2011. Being an innovative engineer since his early years, Jaydeep had been working on solutions for social problems. While in college he joined the Honeybee network and travelled across the country, identifying and documenting diverse local innovations. Little did he know that what started off as a college project would grow into a full-fledged business venture.
During his journey, he met Arunachalam Muruganatham (the inspiration behind the movie Padman) and worked first hand on the machine developed by him. After working extensively for months, he realized the need for commercialising local innovations on a large scale.
Based on learnings from the field, he felt the need for a new approach to address the issue of menstrual hygiene for women at the bottom of the pyramid. He had been experimenting with machine prototypes and material samples for more than a year.
While working with the Aga Khan Foundation in Afghanistan, he identified disposal as a critical challenge for women using sanitary napkins. This was because, in conservative societies, menstruation is considered taboo and menstruating women are treated as outcasts. Due to lack of sanitation and waste disposal services, if their used pads were strewn about by animals, it caused tremendous mental and social agony to the women. Thus he took it upon himself to find a green solution to address these problems.
Problem of Conventional Sanitary Pads
A thing that flashes in your mind when you talk about sustainability is – Biodegradable Sanitary Napkins which companies claim to be 100% eco-friendly. But the question you should be asking yourself is, how green is the choice?
Technically, the word biodegradable in itself doesn’t have any standard definition. It can be anything that degrades naturally and can take as long as 1000 years to disintegrate. Thus going by this, even plastic is biodegradable.
So the term you should be looking for while making a purchase is “COMPOSTABLE”. Compostable are those products that degrade within 90-180 days when provided with the right environment and without leaving behind significant polluting residue.
What’s unique about Anandi?
Anandi, is the first Govt. of India Lab certified fully compostable, high-quality sanitary napkin. It is ideal for low-cost markets that provide women and girls in rural villages and urban slums a more sustainable solution.
Aakar Innovations has grown to a team of 15 employees with 40 factory units spread across 12 states including Delhi, Rajasthan, M.P, West Bengal, Gujrat. The organisation has established an international presence as well with units being set up in Nepal, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Each Anandi pad is manufactured in a woman-supervised and woman-employed mini-factory. This provides an opportunity for local women to become employed, learn entrepreneurial and marketing skills, and even assume management roles within their own community.
Recently, the venture has enlisted Anandi pads on Amazon. Revenue generated from the same will be used for free pad distribution in villages and awareness generation.
The materials used in Anandi Pads are derived from plants thus making it organic inside out. They are engaged in constant R&D to further improve the quality of the machines as well as the products. The team has also come up with semi-automatic and fully automatic machines for producing Anandi pads. They’re also working on fully compostable diapers and plan to launch them soon.
The Hybrid Venture
Challenges in Creating Holistic Solutions
The initial years’ involved rigorous experimentation and testing to get the ideal machinery and materials. This led to a continuous change to ensure that the final pad was as close to the conventional pad made by large manufacturers and comfortable for women and girls.
Over the years, Aakar got the better of various challenges in their journey but the taboo associated with Periods is a tough nut to crack. The problem is acute in rural India where it’s difficult to have an open and candid discussion about the topic that’s shrouded in secrecy. To bring about a behavioural change in such situations remains a daunting task that the Aakar team is undertaking, one factory unit at a time.
At a time when entrepreneurs and companies are taking to greenwashing their products and proclaiming them as the ideal solution, Jaydeep approach sets Aakar apart. Rather than claiming Anandi as the ultimate product, the team creates awareness about the entire spectrum of choices like reusable cloths, period underwear, tampons, menstrual cups, etc. They communicate the merits and demerits of each so that the women can make a choice as per their need and convenience.
According to Jaydeep, there are no shortcuts in life. You take chances, make mistakes, learn from your actions and that’s your Mantra to Grow. The efforts of Aakar’s team have enabled immense positive transformation over the years. Involving the intended beneficiaries for developing holistic solutions is critical for realising true sustainability and empowerment. If this is paired with the ‘Can Do’ attitude toward taking on a challenge, even the most insurmountable of barriers can be overcome. And Aakar Innovations is a shining example of that.
Article by Garima Mangla, Team ulaunch.