Venture Center
PadCare Labs

Ensuring menstrual hygiene and safety of rag pickers PadCare Labs has come up with a technology to recycle soiled sanitary napkins

Ajinkya Dhariya, a mechanical engineering graduate with a passion for sustainability and circular economy, found his calling in entrepreneurship when he started PadCare Labs to recycle soiled sanitary napkins. Hailing from a coastal village in Maharashtra’s Raigad district, Ajinkya Dhariya got a job as an R&D engineer after completing his engineering degree. However, his interest lay elsewhere and he continued looking at various projects once his working day got over. It was on one such occasion when he got to interact with rag pickers in Pune that he learnt how hazardous their lives were. Ajinkya found out that they segregated the garbage with their bare hands and very often had to deal with soiled sanitary napkins that had been junked along with other garbage. 

In terms of the scale of the problem, the numbers are staggering. India's vast population of menstruating women is estimated at 330 million. It is estimated that, on average, a woman could use up to 10,000 sanitary pads till she attains menopause. This contributes to the disposal of approximately 12 billion soiled napkins annually, including the packaging. This massive waste stream poses environmental and health hazards, with most napkins ending up in landfills or clogging drains. Recognizing the multiple challenges of menstrual hygiene and safety for both women and waste pickers, and the damage it was doing to the environment, Ajinkya was prompted to do something about it.

He applied for the SOCH (Solutions for Community Health) award of BIRAC. He came to Venture Center to pitch the idea, beginning his association with Venture Center. Ajinkya quit his job to take up this project full-time. Thanks to the SOCH grant of ₹15 lakhs, he got six months to do market research and develop a proof of concept. He put together a small team, established a laboratory and developed a process to hygienically pick up used napkins and recycle them. He pitched again for a second round of grant money and got ₹50 lakhs to take his idea forward. Venture Center helped him develop the pitch deck and present it. This money was used to take the proof of concept to a minimum viable product, which he pitched 

to different organisations for pilot testing. Thanks to Tata Trust, Ajinkya got an opportunity to do an on-ground pilot. It took Padcare nearly three years to fully develop the technology before a commercial launch in early 2021.

PadCare Labs developed a groundbreaking technology, employing a 5D process - Disinfection, Deodorization, Decolorization, Disintegration, and Deactivation - to recycle soiled napkins. Unlike conventional methods involving incineration, where you cannot recycle absorbent hygiene products, PadCare's approach preserves valuable materials like cellulose and plastic, which are reclaimed and repurposed into products like paper and paver blocks. Padcare's innovative business model focuses on providing menstrual hygiene management as a service, encompassing awareness, accessibility, disposal, and recycling. Padcare has received an Indian patent for the product process and design and has filed for patents in the US and Europe.

A key challenge for PadCare was reconciling the divergent needs of users and recyclers. While users sought discreet disposal, the company aimed to collect napkins for recycling. To address this, PadCare devised specialized bins capable of storing up to 75 soiled napkins, ensuring odor control and infection prevention in the workplace. These bins are serviced regularly, with their contents transported to PadCare's central processing plant in Pune for recycling.

PadCare Labs collaborates with corporations, organizations, communities, and housing societies to fulfill their sustainable development goals by offering menstrual hygiene management services. The company provides bins free of charge and offers napkin collection as a service, emphasizing its commitment to environmental stewardship. At the processing facility, napkins undergo a meticulous recycling process, yielding sterilized pulp and plastic suitable for various applications.

Moreover, PadCare prioritizes data tracking throughout its supply chain, leveraging this information to generate plastic credits, carbon credits, and adhere to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) standards. By embracing clean technology and aligning with sustainable development objectives, PadCare Labs demonstrates a holistic approach to menstrual hygiene and waste management, paving the way for a greener, healthier future.