Skip to content

When you choose to publish with PLOS, your research makes an impact. Make your work accessible to all, without restrictions, and accelerate scientific discovery with options like preprints and published peer review that make your work more Open.


The Journey from Plants to Sanitary Pads: Sisal Plant Leaves Offer an Affordable Solution to Menstruation Problems

Author:  Dr. Dipika Mishra. I hold a Ph.D. degree in Life Sciences from the National Institute of Science Education and Research (NISER) and am a SciCom enthusiast (eLife Community Ambassador for the year 2019-2020). I have composed several scientific poems, some of which have also been featured in the Consilience journal, blogs of GYBN, and the Xylom. Further, my article has also been published in The Wire Science and PLOS Blogs. I also have editorial experience as I have been a part of the ASAPbio Preprint reviewer network, Consilience journal, and CACTUS communications. 

Hygiene comes with a price and for poor women who menstruate once a month, the price for hygiene turns out to be a huge burden on them. With the inability to afford sanitary pads or tampons, these women either stay back at home or rely on unhygienic practices that later affect their health. Notably, 500 million menstruators worldwide lack access to menstrual pads due to the lack of affordable technologies. Thus, menstrual hygiene is majorly compromised in menstruating women of all ages. To address this problem, researchers at Stanford University have identified an affordable and biodegradable solution ( These researchers have developed an economical method to convert plant fibers into absorbent material for sanitary pads.

Why Sisal plants?

In their quest to identify biodegradable absorbent material for use in sanitary pads, the researchers tested various plants. However, whereas the processing of a few turned out to be costly, a few others consumed a lot of water during cultivation. The researchers then turned their attention to Sisal (Agave sisalana), a succulent plant abundant in tropical and subtropical regions of the globe.  Sisal is a drought-resistant plant and the fibers in its leaves have been known to be used to make ropes. The researchers thus tapped into the potential of these plants to provide absorbent material for sanitary napkins.  

The group used a mild delignification process to separate cellulose microfibrils from lignin. These fibers were treated with peroxyformic acid followed by an alkali wash. The treatment with the 1% acid results in the removal of lignin but maintains the structure of the fibers. Following this, the 4% alkali wash solubilizes the cleaved lignin fragments. This was then followed by spinning in a tabletop blender to convert the macro cellulose fibers into micro cellulose and thus increase porosity. The production process is highly sustainable with the end products of the process being only carbon dioxide and water. Moreover, the chemicals required in the processing are also minimal and can be easily availed. This plant-derived pad is thus cheap as well as biodegradable.

Other initiatives in the past

This is not the first study of trying to find an affordable and biodegradable solution to menstruation.  Many initiatives have been undertaken in the past to highlight the usage of biodegradable pads. Notably, Sathi, a project that began in 2015, makes eco-friendly sanitary napkins for menstruating women using banana fibers. Further, joni, a project that began in 2020, also produces certified organic pads and tampons using bamboo. Another player in the biodegradable pads market is Sparkle which began operations in 2018. All these projects ensure that the concept of sustainable development reaches every household.

However, the most interesting and unique aspect of this recent study is that the sisal plant is a low-maintenance plant. Further, the researchers have developed a simple manufacturing process that can be applied by any small-scale industry thus providing access to economical yet environmentally friendly pads in any part of the globe.

Future Perspectives

A report by NGO ARTH (Action Research and Training for Health) suggests that a menstruating woman generates a whopping 14 kg of non-biodegradable waste in her lifetime through the usage of sanitary pads. Such a huge amount of waste can be reduced by the use of affordable and biodegradable alternatives. The main concern in the current scenario is to manage period poverty and at the same time provide affordable biodegradable products to menstruating women. This recent research thus seeks to balance both these things. It remains to be seen whether this development strategy can be used for other plants as well.

While the advertisements of non-biodegradable pads may seem tempting, it is noteworthy to see beyond big names and indeed rely on affordable, sustainable, and biodegradable napkins and tampons to ensure a better tomorrow.

Related Posts
Back to top