Most of the sanitary pads available to African women and girls are relatively expensive and are classified as single-use plastic, meaning some take hundreds of years to decompose. To help tackle this environmental problem, a women-led Kenyan enterprise has created a low-cost, biodegradable pad from agricultural waste.
From afar, you might imagine Mary Nyaruai disposing of agricultural waste at her home in Thika, on the outskirts of Nairobi.
But she is actually working on making biodegradable sanitary pads.
After facing difficulties in finding safe-quality pads, Nyarui thought of a solution using readily available raw materials.
“Maize is a staple in Africa and it sucks,” Nyarui said. “So I usually go and collect it from the market. And it’s also useless, pineapple leaves are useless, so I collect them from the fields as well. So when you mix those two, you get a very Makes a beautiful pad that’s soft. It also delivers in comfort and absorbency and it’s also durable, which is a great thing.”
Once collected, agricultural wastes go through rigorous processes to break down natural fibers and mold the raw materials into biodegradable sanitary pads.
Nyaruai’s company is called Nyungu Afrika, which translates to “Womb of Africa”.
His pads are getting good reviews. Nyambura Maina is one of Nyarui’s clients.
“It felt like I was sitting on clouds because the material is so different. Her pads are so soft, the absorption is good,” Maina said. “It really becomes a life saver for you.”
In 2019, there was widespread outrage on Kenyan social media questioning the quality of some pads in the market.
Kenya’s Ministry of Health says it is striving to maintain quality standards for sanitary pads produced and sold in Kenya to protect consumers as well as the environment.
Dr. Kefa Ombacho was involved in the development of Kenya’s official Environment, Sanitation and Sanitation Strategic Framework.
“The strategy was broadly treating sanitation as an individual friendly issue. Now, the big thing, or the new thing in that strategy, is that we were looking at empowering individuals to enable them to act,” Oombacho said.
Nyarui hopes that her innovation can help Kenyan women not only with their health, but also with their financial well-being.
“Period poverty is a global crisis, but because Africa has a very large population of women who are marginalized and disadvantaged, this is where poverty really eats away at our women,” Nyarui said. “It’s a temporary, small industry, so it can be replicated in many areas. Just to train the women, you know, how to choose the right raw materials and process them and then make the pads.”
And the best part is that the pads are not made of plastic, which means they do not cause any harm to the environment.