Sanitary pads is a market that is undergoing a major transformation. Many products continue to arrive in the market, claiming to be safe and sustainable for health and environment. It is high time that we should understand the term “ecofriendly” pads.
Safety monitor research foundation (SMRF) (www.safetymonitor.org) is an NGO empowering consumers to make informed choices through our safety ratings of products in the market. SMRF safety logo empowers businesses to communicate their product safety and claims, thereby earn consumer trust.
What is an ecofriendly product?
In simple terms, an ecofriendly product is expected to cause low impacts to health and environment. An ecofriendly product uses a “cradle to grave” approach. This means minimising the impacts at all stages of the product life i.e. from design, production, operation and maintenance and up to the final disposal.
What are the expected ecofriendly features of a pad?
Ecofriendly pads are more likely to contain the following features
- an eco-design which focuses to minimise the carbon footprint throughout its life cycle without compromising on performance.
- restricts or prohibits the use of harmful chemicals that may harm health and environment.
Some of the common criterion that such products potentially contain are
- Raw materials sourced from renewable sources or farms or plantations that follow sustainable practices.
- Avoids raw materials sourced from illegal harvesting and genetically modified crops.
- Use of recycled materials to a certain percentage.
- A manufacturing process that minimises bleaching and focuses on minimising emissions or release of wastewater containing chemicals impacting environment.
- Devoid of harmful dyes or additives or fragrances etc.
- Ensures no materials or chemicals used in manufacturing or can be part of the product ares classified for any health (eg. Allergy, cancer etc.) or environmental risk (eg. aquatic chronic toxicity).
- Product manufacturing facilities follow Good Manufacturing Practices(GMP).
- Packaging with recycled materials.
Understanding environmental claims
A genuine “Ecofriendly” product or pad should present/display the claim with accurate information that can be verified.
Products claiming environmental benefits should ensure that the claims are defined specifically about the environmental benefit along with scientific support and traceability. Claims can be categorized into two categories – ecofriendly or specific green/environmental Fig 1: Specific environmental claims (Taken from Wasteminz and Plastics NZ, 2009)
Ecofriendly claims predominately adopt a life cycle approach while specific environmental claims often means one or more specific environmental benefit from a product use (Fig 1). The most common specific environmental claim in a sanitary product is the composability (disposable pads) or presence of recycled materials (cloth pads). While specific environmental
Fig 1: Specific environmental claims (Taken from Wasteminz and Plastics NZ, 2009)
claims are certainly a positive step towards the environment it does not essentially mean that the product is ecofriendly, due to the absence of life cycle approach.
How to earn consumer trust?
There are ways a product can communicate their environmental claims to gain trust with their consumers. The most commonly and widely used method is obtaining a voluntary certification for your product under Eco labelling schemes.
Ecolabels are aimed at simplifying the transmission of technical information about environmental performance to the broad public; still, the information upon whom the labels are based must respect stringent, measurable and state-of-the-art scientific data.
The International Standards Organisation (ISO) has classified the existing environmental labels into three typologies – Type I, II and III – and has specified the preferential principles and procedures for each one of them. Figure 2 below outlines this taxonomy and gives some examples of ecolabels:
Fig 2: International Standards Organisation (ISO) environmental label classification (Taken from UNOPs (2009))
Type I – ecolabels is the most reliable scheme to earn consumer trust and is being encouraged by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPs) and by many governmental and non-governmental agencies across the globe.
What is an Ecolabel?
An ecolabel is basically a label which identifies overall environmental preference of a product or service based on life-cycle considerations. Participating in an ecolabelling scheme is purely voluntary. According to the UNOPs, environmental preference of a product is guaranteed by the fact that the ecolabel is granted by an independent third party, not influenced by the company who seeks certification.
UNOP quotes an ecolabel as a “tool that helps buyers juggle among a number of products and services, often accompanied by unverified claims about their supposed ecological advantages, and recognize those that actually offer a better environmental performance”.
Indian Scenario for Ecolabels
The Bureau of Indian Standards has adopted the ISO 14024:1999 standard as Indian standard for Environmental labels and declarations – Type 1 Environmental labelling – principle and procedure. Often this standard forms the basis to develop the product criteria for grant of ecolabel.
The Government of India has instituted a scheme for labelling of environment friendly products to be known as ECO Mark.
The scheme is being administered by the Bureau of Indian Standards. So far the following product categories have been identified for coverage under this scheme: a) Soaps and Detergents; b) Paints c) Paper d) Plastics e) Cosmetics f) Textiles g) Batteries h) Wood Substitutes j) Propellants and Aerosols k) Food Items (edible oils – including Vanaspati, Tea and Coffee) m) Electrical and Electronics Goods n) Packing/Packaging Materials p) Lubricating/Speciality Oils q) Drugs r) Foods Preservatives and Additives s) Pesticides t) Leather.
It may be noted that sanitary pads are yet to feature in the Eco labelling scheme. Considering the impact of sanitary waste generated in this country and the arrival of many sanitary brands with various environmental claims, The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) should consider including the sanitary pads in to the product categories of Eco labelling.
How to address the gap of Ecomark for sanitary pads?
Green innovative sanitary products should get their competitive advantage when compared to the plastics and chemicals containing conventional pad. SMRF is currently developing standards for ecofriendly pads based on sound scientific criteria. If you consider your product fits the qualities of an ecofriendly product, we would like to hear from you. You can sign up for our third party product verification program https://safetymonitor.org/verified-program/or email your interest to firstname.lastname@example.org
- UNOPs (2009).A guide to environmental labels – for Procurement Practitioners of the United Nations System.
- Wasteminz and Plastics NZ, (2009). Best practice guidelines for the advertising of compostable products and packaging.
- IS/ISO 14024 (1999), Reaffirmed (2004): Environmental Labels and Declarations – Type I Environmental Labeling – Principles and Procedures CHD 34: Environmental Management
- Bureau of Indian Standards. Operation of Ecomark.https://bis.gov.in/?page_id=116273.