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Researchers at Stanford are creating sustainable menstrual pads

The team is working on a process for turning fibers from a cotton alternative into absorbent material for menstrual products.
Researchers at Stanford are creating sustainable menstrual pads
Posted at 6:26 PM, Feb 19, 2024

Anesta Kothari works in a lab at Stanford University in California. She began studying to be an architect, but now is part of a team engineering something entirely different — menstrual pads made from the fibers of a plant.

They're made of a long husk of fibers from sisal, a hard, agave-like plant often used for rope or twine. Under a microscope the fibers have less kinks, making them appealing to use. Sustainability is a perk too. 

So far the team has worked with farmers in Nepal and Kenya.

"It's a succulent. So it can grow in most semi-arid areas, and it doesn't take a lot of square footage," said Kothari. 

Manu Prakash is an associate professor of bioengineering at Stanford.

"What might be the most sustainable approach to such a fundamental human need is probably local distributed manufacturing," said Prakash.

Scientists found a chemical process to break down the parts in the plant cells into fibers. The leftover chemicals can be transformed into carbon dioxide and water. It's similar to how termites break down wood.

"After that air-drying process is this thing called a 'fluff board.' So you can feel that it's, you know, it's stiff, right?" said Kothari. 

They cut the fluff boards up, and the cotton-like products are material for the absorbent core of a pad.

The Stanford lab has opened their work publicly, hoping others will research in this area as well.

"Go out there, find a plant around you, run this process and see if you can beat cotton, or read our data. You would be the first one to discover a completely new use of a plant," said Prakash. 

They focused on sisal, but others have been examining plants like flax, banana and bamboo. All are potential, sustainable solutions to a menstrual health access problem.

SEE MORE: Lawmakers challenge tax on menstruation products in Kentucky

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