For many women around the world, feminine hygiene products are not easily available or accessible. Women are often forced to stay home from school and work during their menstrual cycle. Alicia Dibble, Amber Barron and Ashlea Patterson, material science and engineering students, are working to solve this problem.
“When women can’t access any means to deal with their period, they stay home instead of going to work or school. It leads to a huge disparity between men and women in developing countries,” Barron said. With the help of Jeff Bates, an associate professor of material science and engineering, and Megan Shannahan, a business advisor for the engineering department, the students created a startup called SHERO — Sustainable Hygiene Engineering Research and Operations.
“The original need was for a super absorbent material that SHEVA (a local non-profit in Guatemala) could put into a pad,” Patterson said. “Once we began, the product morphed into an entirely biodegradable pad that women can make themselves in Guatemala. We are coming up with a ‘recipe’ of materials to make the pads, which can all be found at their local markets, such as banana peels, rice and cotton pads. We are also designing a press that women can use to press the materials into pads themselves, similar to a tortilla press.”
Not only are they designing biodegradable pads and presses for women in Guatemala, SHERO is also designing pads for women in the United States to fund the process. “The sale of the SHERO pad will go to making the pads, producing money to support educating Guatemalan women on menstrual cycles and sending the presses over,” Dibble said. These pads will be sold, packaged and pre-assembled, just like any other pad. But what sets them apart from other feminine hygiene products is that they will also be made of biodegradable material.
Over the course of the average American woman’s life, she will produce over 6,400 pounds of feminine hygiene waste, meaning one percent of landfill is women’s hygiene products, which are not biodegradable. “All of us are so devoted to this project and committed to making a difference. Everyone is excited to be a part of that. It’s an idea that everyone can get behind,” Barron said.
SHERO has received funding for their startup from Lassonde Entrepreneur Institutes’s Get Seeded program, receiving $3,000 for research, prototyping and startup costs.
Find this article and a lot more in the 2017 “Student Innovation @ the U” report. The publication is presented by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute to celebrate student innovators, change-makers and entrepreneurs.