Project Lead(s): Julian Kayibanda
Lack of access to affordable menstrual pads by women and school girls causes significant costs to their health, education, productivity and dignity.
In Rwanda, despite great achievements in the country's education system, school absenteeism for girls remains a challenge, greatly affecting their performance.
Lack of sanitary pads for girls during their menstrual periods is a main cause for this absenteeism and many end up dropping out of school as a result.
Implemented in Rwanda, the project involved development of a patent-pending, mechanical process to make an absorbent core – the highest material cost driver for menstrual pads – from banana fiber, an agricultural waste product found in Rwanda and world-wide.
The Launch Pad avoids the use of toxic bleach and non-biodegradable super absorbent polymers, reducing the negative environmental impact of typical pads.
An innovative product and manufacturing model using limited water and electricity has been developed to suit the Rwandan environment.
The project successfully replicated the patent-pending technology on a pilot-industrial scale in Rwanda.
Each part of the value chain to make the pads was proven effective. For example, the banana fiber was successfully made into absorbent fluff with a Fitz Mill and disc refiner, along with a recycled water system.
Initial pads were made with a simple pad assembler and a UV sanitizer was used to ensure a hygienic product.
The pads were tested in the lab, as well as with a limited number of potential customers, to prove effectiveness.
In addition to developing the sanitary pad, 1,329 students and staff were provided with information about menstrual hygiene.
Six hundred banana farmers benefitted economically, as they were involved in supplying banana fibers. Twelve staff were hired to make the fluff and 10,000 sanitary pads were sold.
Knowledge about the process was disseminated through conferences and events, including the first ever UNESCO-led menstrual hygiene conference in Nairobi.
The producers are currently looking for commercial partners to assist in scaling the product. The long-term goal of the project is to deliver more affordable, eco-friendly menstrual pads to 250,000 girls by 2017, by establishing sustainable and profitable businesses.
A total of $100,000 was received from unnamed sources for the project.