Hi! My name is Kayleigh, and I’m one of Saathi’s remote externs this summer. Specifically, I’m working on studying the environmental impact of Saathi’s plastic-free and biodegradable sanitary pads. I’m an Environmental Engineering major with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies, and this fall, I’ll be a senior in college. I’m currently in the US, so while it sometimes feels weird to have my internship be entirely remote, I’m excited to work with Saathi and to share a little bit about what I’ve been doing! In this blog post, I plan to touch on a few broad lessons I’ve learned from my environmental engineering education and how Saathi and their pads adhere to those lessons.
Environmental engineering encompasses any job that deals with improving environmental quality, and involves many environmental sciences, such as hydrology, biology, chemistry, soil science, along with engineering basics. I was initially interested in working with Saathi for the summer because it felt like a great opportunity to not only use my environmental engineering education at the product-level, but also to bring in my interests in sustainability, women’s issues, and menstrual health.
At Saathi, I’m here to help analyze and quantify the environmental impact that Saathi has, especially in relation to other pads, many of which contain plastic and are not compostable. As a consumer it can be hard to gauge the environmental impact of each product you buy, especially since many companies--including other menstrual product companies--aren’t always transparent about what goes into their products, how those products are made, and how that product impacts the environment. Saathi is already quite transparent with their products, so I see part of my internship as figuring out different ways to communicate to you about the environmental friendliness and sustainability of Saathi products.
I’m still currently working on my project, and will be until the end of August, but I just wanted to explore a couple ways I’ve seen certain themes and lessons from my environmental engineering education appear in my Saathi internship.
If you’re familiar with the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle”, then you might know that the order of those actions is the order in which you should approach the products that you buy. First, do you even need that product in the first place? If you do, then how can you reuse the product so you don’t have to throw it out? And if you have to buy the product and you can’t think of a way to reuse it, are you at least able to recycle it so it doesn’t have to end up in a landfill?
While “reduce, reuse, recycle” is most normally mentioned in relation to consumers, it’s also a useful adage for companies as well. What I appreciate about Saathi and its sanitary pads are that they keep plastic out of the product. If you’ve read the plastic-free July blog posts, then you’re probably familiar with the environmental consequences and permanence of man-made plastics. So many of the basic products we rely on require plastics, whether its clothing, packaged foods, or medical equipment, and shunning all plastic products is often difficult due to their prevalence in the world. There’s already more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic in the world. As a manufacturer, we believe that we can do our part to reduce the amount of plastic that is produced for the future by providing a plastic free alternative to sanitary pads and other products. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t aim to lower our plastic consumption. Companies like Saathi, which make it a point to create a plastic-free version of a product that normally uses plastic, empowers consumers and makes it more attainable to lessen our individual environmental impact. Making, and recycling, plastics uses chemicals, water, electricity, and fossil fuels — all resources we should be mindful about using — so it’s a big step for a company to take a product that normally is 90% plastic, and then redesign it to be plastic free.
Another theme that I’ve learned from environmental engineering is that environmental health is often directly correlated with human health. There are so many man-made chemicals out there, such as toluene, which can be used to make other chemicals and can be found in gasoline, or benzene, which can be used to make plastics. While both of these man-made chemicals can be helpful in different manufacturing processes, they also have a high potential to pollute surface waters and groundwater, both of which are sources of water that we, and our food, rely on. For example, toluene is considered to be “fat-soluble”, which means that it has the propensity the bioaccumulate in the food chain, especially in the liver or fatty tissues of living organisms. If gasoline was somehow dumped in a lake and a small fish was to ingest toluene or other fat-soluble chemicals from the gasoline, those fat-soluble chemicals would take a while to eventually exit the fish’s body. But let’s say an even bigger fish came along and ate that small fish -- the bigger fish now the fat-soluble chemicals that the smaller fish had stored now in its own body, along with fat-soluble chemicals that any of its other prey may have eaten . Eventually, that bigger fish may find its way to you, and you may eat it. What was in the fish’s body is now in yours, and that can be harmful when some of those substances are dangerous for us. You might have heard that pregnant individuals should not fish when pregnant or breastfeeding. That’s because some fish store too much mercury, a fat-soluble and harmful chemical, in their bodies because of exposure to water pollutants.
There are many ways to tackle improving environmental and human health simultaneously, and Saathi is able to address both environmental health and menstrual health by making pads that are biodegradable. Using an unclean pad for too long, not using clean materials, or using materials that your body is sensitive to can lead to irritation, rashes, and UTIs and yeast infections. Saathi’s pads are made of clean, human-friendly and eco-friendly materials, which helps improve the menstrual experience and your menstrual health. In addition, when you consider the fact that only about 18% of menstruators in India have access to pads and most major menstrual product brands have plastic in their pads, if you were to supply every woman with plastic-containing pads for every year that they have a period, that’s a lot of plastic that ends up disposed in our environment. So when Saathi is able to give pads to those in rural areas to menstruators who need them, we’re able to increase access to menstrual products without also increasing plastic usage, which makes Saathi pads good for the body, community, and environment.
Finally, the last theme that I wanted to mention is the idea that “everything is connected”. One thing that has surprised me again and again in my environmental engineering education is how, when it comes to the environment, it can be so complex to predict the environmental consequence of every action you take or material you produce. For example, tossing leftover food into the trash can seem harmless. However, food waste that decomposes in landfills releases methane, which is a greenhouse gas that has 28 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide. Those methane emissions, in combination with other greenhouse gases, exacerbate the impacts of climate change and rising global temperatures.
While it can be hard to predict the environmental consequences of different materials and products, there are steps that can be taken by both consumers and companies to lower emissions and the waste we put out. By making fully biodegradable pads that also come packaged in biodegradable wrapping and boxes, Saathi is able to both shorten the life cycle of their pads, meaning that your pad won’t remain on the earth long after they are made, creating unforeseen environmental consequences! If you’re interested in learning more about composting and how composting your Saathi pads work, check out our recent video entitled 73 Questions on Composting.
I’ve enjoyed working with Saathi this summer, and I’ll also make a second blog post later on that will give a little more insight into the project that I’ve been working on. Also be on the lookout for blog posts from my other fellow interns, Megan and Michaela. Until then, I hope you have a great week, and leave a comment about what you’ve learned in a summer internship or your favorite ways to be an environmentally conscious consumer!
Kayleigh is a rising senior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and is majoring in Environmental Engineering with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. While on campus, she advocates for sustainability, environmental issues, and menstrual health. She is excited to work with Saathi this summer, analyzing and quantifying the environmental impact of Saathi’s sanitary napkins.
In case you are interested in interning with Saathi either during the school semester as a co-op or during the winter or summer breaks, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Saathi, we developed all-natural biodegradable and compostable sanitary pads made of banana and bamboo fiber which are good for the body, community and environment. When you purchase Saathi pads, you are not just getting a soft, rash-free product, but you’re also helping an Indian farmer, enabling a village girl to attend school because she has access to pads, and reducing plastic pollution and CO2 emissions!