People often associate innovation with engineering. But it is not just about creating the tech but visualising the impact. Innovation can come from anywhere, but the intent is what matters, shares a young innovator whose creation has the potential to change countless lives.
She is Aishwarya Agarwal, an IIT-Bombay student, who along with Devyani Maladkar from IIT-Goa, has managed to target an important problem that half the world’s population faces today—disposal of sanitary napkins.
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“In a country where women still use unclean cloth instead of sanitary napkins, this is a big step, but an important one. We cannot transform their lives by encouraging them to adopt menstrual hygiene methods that in the long run are harmful for the environment. That way, it will never be sustainable,” says Aishwarya, while speaking to The Better India.
The duo started the project in May 2019, during the six-week Invent@IITGN summer programme, held at IIT-Gandhinagar. Their idea was to use this opportunity to focus on solving a socially relevant problem that has a mass impact. A budget of Rs 50,000 had been allocated for the device.
Speaking about the motivation behind the idea, she points out that it takes 500-800 years to decompose a single piece of sanitary napkin.
“A single woman can generate up to 125 kg of non-biodegradable waste through her menstruating years. Just imagine the consequences. With this device, we want to do our part by altering this reality!” adds Aishwarya.
As a solution, Cleans Right comes as an affordable device that cleans reusable sanitary pads and thereby, reduces biomedical waste.
The duo have now filed for a patent for the device, which is in the prototype stage.
Devyani says, “There were various factors inspiring us to address this issue, both personal and public. We had read about a case where a few girls died due to toxic shock syndrome caused by the use of unclean cloth during menstruation. Although these cloth pads are reused in rural India after cleaning by hand, the process doesn’t really rid them of the germs.”
She adds that while there has been an increase in the awareness about menstrual hygiene, there’s still a gap when it comes to adopting reusable sanitary pads. They also found that cleaning methods for the same are still not close to accurate.
“During our research where we spoke to a number of NGOs promoting reusable pads, we were told about the reluctance to clean them by hand. Even washing them in the washing machine is not enough to sterilise and clean them properly.”
The device hence forms the bridge between the two, by providing a safe way of cleaning and sterilising reusable pads.
How does it work?
Instead of using electricity, the device operates on foot pedal plungers inside a chamber filled with water. The motion mimics the hand-rubbing movement to squeeze out menstrual blood from the cloth pads, while they are rinsed in water. This is then followed by the usual procedure of spin drying.
“Sterilisation with UV lamps using solar energy is an aspect we are actively working on to improve the prototype. There are a number of sophisticated improvements to be made as well, which include finding a better material for the plungers and diaphragms,” explains Aishwarya.
The device which can also be used to clean undergarments and baby clothes will cost around Rs 1,500 once launched.
Although in its initial stages, the promising device has the potential to change lives—a goal both students want to dedicate their lives to.
“It is not just about engineering but about the will to change society. Anyone can do so from their respective fields of knowledge. We are just using ours!” concludes Aishwarya.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)