Reducing waste with reusable sanitary pads

Samoa | 2018

Objective: provide reusable, cotton feminine hygiene products that reduce plastic waste, while making female hygiene more affordable for low income groups in Samoa.

It doesn’t get more linear than disposable female hygiene products – and yet a circular economy solution faces some extreme cultural barriers.

A Samoan businesswoman producing reusable feminine hygiene products was awarded a US$10,000 supporting grant from UNEP to try. As a winner of the Asia Pacific Low Carbon Lifestyles Challenge in the Plastic Waste category, Angelica Salele received training, and pitch to win an additional US$10,000 prize to bolster her business.

Living in a Pacific Island poses an opportunity for circular economy business models – imports are expensive and waste management options are limited. Reusable pads apply two circular economy principles – a shift to biobased materials, and changing from disposable to reusable. In fact, a set of 6 pads displaces 900 disposable pads over their five-year lifepan. UNEP Director for the Asia-Pacific region, Dechen Tsering, said, “It’s fantastic to see that her venture also supports women and girls, who are too often marginalized despite their central role in protecting our planet.”

Disposable feminine sanitary pads contribute to household waste across the globe. But in Pacific island countries and territories, solid waste management is an even bigger challenge. Salele produces and sells reusable sanitary pads that are durable and made of natural fibres. They offer women and girls an affordable and environmentally friendly alternative to single use, disposable sanitary pads made of toxic plastic materials, while providing employment to women seamstresses who manufacture the product.

Overcoming the taboos about menstruation was a tough job. “In Asia-Pacific, there are some reusable pads available, but none that remove the stigma of menstruation by selling beautiful products women want to use and reuse. This is where our pads come in: they are aesthetically appealing and do the job well. Menstrual health and hygiene are issues in Asia-Pacific, and this stems from a global stigma surrounding menstruation. We often treat it as a dirty phenomenon, and not as something women cannot control, and should not be ashamed of. Reusable pads make women more invested in their natural bodies, and can help them to feel more in control and understand their menstruation better by removing shame associated with using poor quality or disposable products. This is just another layer of sustainable lifestyles that women can take on, and a way to discourage the use of single use plastics by providing alternatives that still provide the necessity, without producing waste.” Salele said, “I questioned why I ever used disposable pads and tampons. But the answer was simple: in Samoa and the Pacific, there are no alternatives. UNEP support is vital to get this effort off the ground.”

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