Three environmentally-conscious students from the University of Southern Denmark noticed that it is impossible to find sustainable sanitary towels and tampons in stores. So, now they have developed a disposable sanitary towel from sustainable plant fibers.
“Our tests show that it works. The sanitary towel is just as absorbent as conventional sanitary towels”, says Emilie Søby Eriksen, looking at the piece of fabric made of compressed plant fibers lying on the table.
“Three grams of plant fibers, which is what one of our sanitary towels typically contains, absorbs 50 grams of liquid. During a typical menstrual period, women bleed an average of 50 grams of fluid throughout the entire menstruation, so the sanitary towel fully meets normal needs”, says Simone Westergaard.
70 per cent of all sanitary towels on the market consist of plastic fibers. This affects the climate because plastics consist of petroleum. In traditional sanitary towels, cotton is the absorbent material. Cotton is very damaging to the climate because roughly 5,000 liters of water are needed to produce one kilo of cotton.
“I am very focused on sustainability, but when it comes to menstruation, I do not feel I have the option of making a sustainable choice that also meets my demands for comfort and hygiene”, says Frederikke Dahl.
So, the three students, Dahl, Westergaard and Søby Eriksen, took the matter into their own hands. They created the start-up Mewalii, where they dream of selling sustainable disposable sanitary towels (and eventually tampons) via a subscription scheme.
Cup or fabric towel?
For over half a year, they studied scientific articles and were in the lab studying the absorbency of various plant fibers. They investigated water consumption and chemical consumption.
“Obviously, one can use menstrual cups or fabric towels. I use the menstrual cup myself, but it doesn’t stay very tight”, says Søby Eriksen, while Dahl and Westergaard have given up on using the cup.
“And we have not used the fabric towels. We all agree that it is not convenient to have used sanitary towels lying in a bag until we can get home and boil them. At the same time, you might wonder how sustainable the sanitary towels ultimately are if they have to be boiled”, says Dahl.
Uses a lot less water
“The most important thing is the sanitary towel’s comfort and absorbency, and by testing different options, we found that a specific bast fiber has the best absorbency. The fibers come from the long stems of plants such as nettles”, explains Søby Eriksen.
“We went and tenderized the stems ourselves so we could pull off the bast threads”, says Dahl, pointing to a jar with the processed plant fibers sitting there like small beige wads of cotton.
But besides the absorbency, it is the sanitary towel’s total climate impact that the women are keeping an eye on.
“It is crucial to us that the plant fibers grow in Europe, so we avoid long shipping. Also, five times less water is needed for our plant fibers than cotton”, Søby Eriksen points out.
Looking for contacts in production
Westergaard, Dahl and Søby Eriksen are bursting with confidence and firmly believe that they have developed a sustainable sanitary towel that lives up to women’s demands for comfort and hygiene.
They now have an office at SDU Cortex Lab, where they try to get in contact with people in the production stage in order to produce finished samples.
“In any case, we think we are at a point where we have a product with a lot of potential. Now we have to get a patent, put it into production, and then we have to convince investors that we have a really good business here. But we’ve simply encountered so much goodwill and help, so we really believe in it”, says Westergaard.
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