Evaluating product end-of-life scenarios in landfill environments and incinerators

Our aim as an organization is to design products that biodegrade under warm and humid conditions so that they can go back to nature after disposal without leaving any toxic residue behind. However, due to the lack of proper infrastructure, waste segregation, and disposal methods, we have to account for the possibility that our used sanitary pads may also end up in landfills or at incineration facilities.

Our Environment department evaluates different real-world, end-of-life situations and studies how our ingredients and products would behave if they end up in landfills or inside incinerators. In most countries, used sanitary pads are classified as solid waste, leading to them eventually ending up either in landfills or incinerators. Until large-scale composting can become a reality, we believe it’s important to design products that can break down in landfills at a much faster rate compared to conventional, plastic-oriented pads, or generate less emissions and toxic fumes when incinerated compared to commercial sanitary napkins that are made with petrochemical by-products, synthetic superabsorbents and artificial perfumes. At our Environment department, we are focusing on the following areas:

1. Evaluating degradation of sanitary pads in landfills under anaerobic digestion conditions
2. Assessing emission profiles of sanitary pad disposal through incineration (combustion)
3. Conducing Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to evaluate how we can reduce our carbon emissions

Evaluating degradation of products in landfills under anaerobic digestion conditions

Many factors determine the rate and level of biodegradation such as temperature, the level of microbial activities, amount of moisture, etc. For instance, in home composting or in industrial composting conditions, aerobic (in the presence of oxygen) biodegradation takes place since the compost is periodically turned and aerated. The temperature quotient (high-temperature levels in hot composting and ambient temperatures in home-composting) as well as moisture content levels are maintained, which allows different types of bacteria and fungi to decompose the materials.

In comparison to home composting or industrial composting, landfills provide a very different environment for biodegradation.

Assessing emission profiles of sanitary pad disposal through incineration (combustion)

Out of 12 billion pads that are disposed of annually in India alone, around 25-30% of sanitary pads are burnt in open fires, which can result in the emission of harmful air emissions when combusted at low temperatures and/or not properly vented. In many countries, over 50% of solid waste is incinerated at municipal waste incineration (waste-to-energy) plants.

Several available and small commercial decentralized incinerators operate at around 300°C, which may not result in the complete combustion of complex plastic components, synthetic superabsorbent polymers, and other chemicals.

Conducting Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to evaluate how we can reduce our carbon emission

As we work towards creating a circular economy, we continuously examine ways to reduce our overall environmental impact. We conduct internal audits and perform Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) by considering the full cradle-to-grave cycle of our products, starting from raw material extraction to distribution, use and disposal.

We measure the carbon footprint of our entire operation by carefully calculating our Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions that represent our direct emissions (such as emissions from our manufacturing plants), indirect emissions (such as emissions from our purchased electricity) and other indirect emissions from our supply chain (such as emissions released from raw materials extraction, employee commuting, shipping etc).