Manufacturing and Production

Manufacturing and Production

Written by Charlotte Burger 

Though PridePads Africa’s primary focus is female empowerment through access to accessible and affordable menstrual products, the organization is founded on another, equally important tenet, sustainability. PridePads Africa creates biodegradable menstruation products created by and for women in Ngaoundere, Cameroon. These products will not only benefit the women and girls that use them, but the local environment as well.

 Most conventional, disposable menstruation products are neither sustainable nor environmentally friendly, containing undisclosed chemicals and other non-biodegradable materials, including plastics, parabens, and endocrine disruptors. Even when these products don't end up in landfills, which most of them do, they may find their way into oceans and waterways. According to a 2019 study, a single disposable pad of the conventional variety can take up to 800 years to break down. There are compostable options, including sanitary products that contain 100% organic cotton or natural bamboo. However, these take a while to break down, and the applicators for tampons are almost never biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable. Packaging is also a major issue. Most packaging for menstrual products is made of plastic or other non-biodegradable material[1]. In poorer countries, most girls and women may not have access to menstrual products in any capacity and if they do, may not have a way to dispose of them after use. Typically, girls and women will keep their used menstrual products with them, burn them, or attempt to flush them down toilets, which can create issues with septic system clogging. In the developing world, conventional pads are generally expensive and subsequently hard to come by, which puts the health and educational attainment of girls at risk. This incentivizes the use of unsafe substitutes such as rags, newspaper, and feathers[2].

 The obvious solution is to provide biodegradable menstrual products to these women to eliminate issues with accessibility and disposal. PridePads Africa is attempting to do exactly this in Ngaoundere Cameroon. Using a machine purchased and developed in India, PridePads has the capacity to churn out 1500 to 1800 pads per day at their facility in Ngaoundere, run by an all-female, all-Cameroonian staff. All the materials in the pads are biodegradable, taking around 90 days to break down completely without a trace. The pad is made up of three layers; the super absorbent polymer paper layer composed of natural gum fibers sourced primarily from pine trees, the corn-based bioplastic layer, and the top-most non-woven mesh layer, which aids in liquid retention. The pads also have strips of biodegradable adhesive for easy attachment to clothes and undergarments.

 The absorbent polymer layer’s materials are currently sourced from India, carted over on cargo ships. However, PridePads is looking for locally sourced materials to cut down further on emissions from transportation. Locally sourced materials, specifically sourcing waste products of the agricultural industry, would stimulate the local economy by paying vendors individually, creating an informal market around the purchase and use of waste products. Prior to sourcing materials from India, the absorbent layer was made up of banana or plantain fibers. To process banana/plantain fibers to construct sanitary products, one must split apart and stringently beat the material to break it into a workable product, then pulverize and press the fibers into the pad. Unfortunately, banana and plantain fibers are not ideal. The fibers are thicker, wirier, oxidize (meaning they brown after a few weeks), and are more difficult to compress compared to the various tree fibers currently used in PridePads products. However, in Cameroon, particularly Ngaoundere, banana and plantain cuttings are a massive waste product, oftentimes piled up in markets and train station platforms in heaps up to 20 feet high and 100 feet wide. As oxidation of the fibers is a major aesthetic concern for using banana and plantain fibers in menstrual pads, some solutions suggest bleaching which is safe for women’s health.

 An even better solution would be the use of sugarcane waste byproducts, as there is a larger amount of the crop farmed and processed in Cameroon. Furthermore, the pulp derived from sugarcane is much wider, does not darken like banana and/or plantain fibers, and is highly absorbent. In Cameroon, sugarcane pulp disposal is similar to the way that banana and plantain wastes are disposed of, yet as a food-grade regulated product, this waste pulp can be purchased and used again, making sugarcane waste fibers an attractive material source for PridePads. Along with finding new sources for the absorbent layer, PridePads is also looking to find local sources for the bioplastic and nonwoven mesh layers, which may be more difficult.

 The menstrual pads produced at the PridePads facility are constructed by compiling each layer on top of the other, then applying pressure and heat to bond the layers together. The process is neither water nor overly energy intensive, yet PridePads is working towards fully renewable energy usage for the facility. While the facility currently uses electricity supplied by coal-fired power plants, solar panels on the roof of the facility could reduce Pride Pads’ carbon footprint as well as increase electricity reliability. This could turn the facility into a quasi-community center, outfitted with computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and common spaces for community members to access the web and communicate with others worldwide.

 After manufacturing, the pads are packaged and stored in bundles within the facility, ready and waiting for distribution. Currently PridePads is waiting for approval from the Cameroonian government to sell our products. Long-term, we are looking to create connections with local grocery stores and markets to sell pads, ideally multiple packages of pads per month.  Distribution would be wholly run by the women employed by PridePads in Ngaoundere, the goal is for teams of 7 to 20 women to purchase pads at a discounted rate from the facility and sell them as needed in local markets. These girls, as pseudo sales representatives, would make a base salary as well as be paid on a commission basis. Currently, PridePads is focusing on distributing pads and menstrual health information through school visits. By supplying pads through visits to local schools, PridePads can supply pads to the girls who most need it while increasing the visibility of the organization. Furthermore, PridePads is working on a menstrual health and safety curriculum to educate girls about their periods as well as attempt to destigmatize the topic in the local community. Due to cultural norms, menstruation is incredibly taboo in Cameroon. Menstrual products and education via PridePads will help to keep girls in school or working, even while on their periods, which will increase female independence and empowerment in Ngaoundere and hopefully beyond.



Pride Pads April Blog Manufacturing & Production