July 7, 2022
Saathi Hygiene Pads Bets on Carbon and Plastic Credits with Social Impact
contributor: Claudia Alemañy Castilla
Saathi, the India-based manufacturer of environmentally friendly sanitary pads, would like to broaden the scope of projects that generate carbon and plastic credits. These credits are usually awarded for projects such as halting deforestation, planting trees, and adopting soil management techniques. They are exclusively a downstream waste credit, which means credits are generated and sold from plastic removal and recycling projects.
Saathi Eco Innovations India Pvt Ltd. is adding social impact to the credit formula.
Kristin Kagetsu, a Saathi co-founder, says the business began a plastic and carbon initiative as a way for companies to make a bigger impact with the money they already spend on carbon credits.
“At Saathi, our circular manufacturing makes biodegradable and compostable sanitary pads that replace plastic and bleach materials, making it possible to generate plastic avoidance credits. Beyond plastic avoidance, we are a social enterprise that has impacts in accordance with nine UN SDGs,” Ms. Kagetsu says, referring to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. “As our impacts are built into the supply chain and holistic business model, we have the capabilities to generate not only a plastic avoidance credit, but a credit that is socially impactful. We call this Saathi’s Circular Credit or a plastic avoidance credit.”
As Ms. Kagetsu explains, this project aims to reduce plastic waste at its source. In this way, actions to eliminate them definitively from the system can be more efficient and prevent them from entering it in the first place.
“This different approach inspired the development of a new kind of plastic credit into the market that accounts for upstream waste,” Ms. Kagetsu says.
Carbon and plastic credits have at times been posited as a leading, if not the ultimate, solution to reducing the impact of climate change on the planet, but some observers find loopholes in their operation. For example, a year-long joint investigation between The Guardian and Unearthed, the research arm of Greenpeace, revealed that the offsetting schemes used by some of the world’s largest airlines were based on a flawed and much-criticized system.
“We found that their predictions were often inconsistent with previous levels of deforestation in the area and, in some cases, the threat to trees may have been exaggerated,” they explained.
Critics warn that these credits could make it appear that nations are making more progress on emissions than they really are. Another criticism is that these programs may accelerate the creation of carbon credits in separate voluntary offset markets, which have also been accused of overstating climate benefits.
Ms. Kagetsu and her team maintain that their initiative does make a difference, and not just to the environment.
“Our credit improves the environmental and social sustainability of women and girls’ livelihoods in India. Company contributions encourage global systemic change through plastic avoidance, and local impacts on communities.”
She also invites anyone interested in becoming an agent of change to contact Saathi and learn more about their credits.
Banana and bamboo fiber pads: Saathi’s success story
Saathi began in 2015 as a project by Ms. Kagetsu, Tarun Bothra, and Grace Kane, graduates of MIT and Nirma University. They came together on a mission to create “fully eco-friendly, compostable sanitary napkins using locally sourced banana fiber from the state of Gujarat” in India.
The resulting startup developed a quality-tested product, with absorption levels above the Indian government standard. The next step was to integrate other local crops into the manufacturing process. This resulted in bamboo fiber pads.
The venture was a finalist in Innovation Showcase India 2018, a startup accelerator by Engineering for Change’s umbrella organization, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME ISHOW).
In nearly a decade of work, Saathi has impacted the lives of Indian women.
“We are able to provide a safe and healthy menstrual product that means less infections, irritation and other complications due to poor menstrual hygiene. They are then able to attend school or work to reach their full potential. We also employ women in our manufacturing unit and those women have said that the new source of disposable income enables them to send their daughters to school as well, whereas typically only sons would be prioritized to attend school,” Ms. Kagetsu says.
Saathi sanitary products have collected a high number of positive online reviews, such as this one on Amazon:
“The best brand of biodegradable panty liners and pads. Unlike others, these do not start to break when it’s time to use them.”
Not every review is positive, and we followed up with Ms. Kagetsu in response to a criticism posted in October, 2020, on Amazon India.
“I bought the Saathi pads just because they were biodegradable. However, I found that each sanitary napkin was wrapped in individual plastic bags. This disproves the idea that the product is eco-friendly.”
“We have actually always used biodegradable and compostable packaging because it feels similar due to the properties of the material. The customer may have been confused”, Ms. Kagetsu noted for this article.
The future for Saathi’s products may include new materials and new hygiene products that, as Ms. Kagetsu says, are good for the body, environment, and community. One pursuit underway is research into multiple natural fibers to manufacture pads.
About the Author
Claudia Alemañy Castilla is the 2022 E4C Editorial Fellow and an award-winning journalist who splits her time between homes in Cuba and Spain. Among her accomplishments, Ms. Alemañy Castilla has developed the COVID-19 Cuba Data Project for Juventud Técnica Magazine in Havana, Cuba, where she was a staff reporter specialized in science, technology and environmental journalism. She has also reported for Women in Science (a publication of País Vasco University), the Cuban Institute of Cultural Research ‘Juan Marinello,’ and others.