In India, ‘menstrual hygiene, sanitary pads etc.’ are topics that make people very uncomfortable whenever they are brought up. If the mere mention of such topics is enough to make people uncomfortable, then how can we expect innovations in the sector and the adoption of sustainable solutions.
But this is the domain where Ajinkya Dharia, CEO of Padcare Labs, has decided to innovate and create a sustainable ecosystem for menstrual hygiene.
Understanding the problem
While Ajinkya was pursuing Mechanical Engineering as an undergraduate, he was very passionate about social causes as well. As a result, during the final year of college, he used the opportunity to explore and understand the problems prevalent in the country while working on his project.
‘It was during that time that I realized that waste management is a huge problem in a developing country like ours. After exploring further, I also realized that there is no real mechanism in place to dispose sanitary pads. It is generally incinerated which releases toxic gases or it ends up in a landfill where it takes around 800 years to decompose. This can have hazardous consequences for the environment.’ explains Ajinkya.
To further understand the problem from the perspective of the actual users, Ajinkya interacted with more than 500 women. This interaction allowed him to gauge the complex socio-cultural dynamic of the domain.
Taking the Leap
Armed with extensive knowledge in the domain and ample research, Ajinkya was in a great position to use his engineering and problem solving skills to come up with the solution.
‘The BIRAC SOCH award really kickstarted the project for me’, adds Ajinkya. ‘Winning the award proved as a validation point for my research and showed me that a lot of people were beginning to understand the immensity of the problem’.
Ajinkya established the company, named PadCare Labs private limited, with the aim of developed an efficient, pollution free, closed loop solution for disposing sanitary pads.
PadCare Labs has developed a proprietary technology for smoke-less disposal of Sanitary Pads.
‘Typically, when segregated at source, sanitary pads are burned in an incinerator at 800 degree Celsius for effective disposal.’ explains Ajinkya. ‘This causes a lot of pollution and consumes a lot energy as well. We have developed a technology by combining chemical, mechanical and electrical innovations that can ensure smokeless disposal of sanitary pads. The pads are broken down, sterilized, deodorized and segregated into cellulose and plastic pellets.’
The machine has a mechanical shredder to disintegrate pads into smaller pieces when pads that are fed into it. These pieces undergo a disinfection, decolorization & deodorization process and then deactivated. The super-absorbent chemical from the pads is deactivated with the help of sodium polycarbonate.
Then the pad material is broken down into cellulose & plastic pellets. The cellulose produced during the process can be used to make paper & the plastic pellets can be used in manufacturing packaging material or construction material. The entire process is eco-friendly.
‘Initially we are targeting public places, office parks and government offices to scale the technology. We have received a great response from all the organizations, they are willing to begin the implementation process at the earliest.’ Ajinkya adds.
“Everyday is a new challenge in a startup”, shares Ajinkya. “But it is to be expected when you are trying to create a path in a domain where there is no clear path. We focus on solving whatever problems that arise, learn from it and move on”.
The Path Forward
“We aim to increase our overall capacity to collect and process the disposed Sanitary Pads to a great extent. We aim to serve 50,000 women on a daily basis by the end of 2021.” shares Ajinkya