A group of University of Alberta students is developing environmentally-friendly menstrual products made almost entirely out of hemp.
Alberta is the second-largest producer of hemp but much of it goes unused, according to Nicole Sanchez, a fourth-year-student studying business, economics and law, and project manager of Hempact.
“Hemp is normally used for its seed. The hemp stock is considered as waste,” she said.
Hempact is taking that excess hemp material and creating a product that will be single-use and disposable; the menstrual pad would have hemp fiber in the middle sandwiched by a bioplastic that the students are developing.
“One woman goes through menstruation for an average of 38 years,” Sanchez said.
“That’s about 300 pounds of waste per one person. That could take about 800 to 1,000 years to biodegrade.”
Sanchez said current menstrual products are 10 per cent cotton and 90 per cent plastic, which is why it takes so long for them to biodegrade.
“If we release this product, it would take six months to biodegrade. That’s a big difference,” she said.
The idea originated from a pitch competition in Drayton Valley that focused on what to do with the province’s agricultural waste. It has since become a 16-student operation at the university.
“Women are able to use a product that they know is environmentally-friendly without needing to change up their routine of how they go about their menstrual hygiene habits,” said Anka Chan, Hempact’s research and development officer. Chan is also a fourth-year-student at the University of Alberta studying neuroscience.
“We’re really trying to develop a product that is going to be as good or better than those in the market that women are using now.”
Chan said there have been some challenges with the hemp, including working on techniques to soften the fibers for comfort, but the students are making strides towards a final prototype.
The group hopes to help break down the stigma behind menstruation, but the environment and what is in store for future generations is front of mind for both women.
“Essentially every woman menstruates you know. It’s not something we can avoid. If we have a product that is good for the environment, then why not?” Sanchez said.
She said the group will eventually look at developing tampons and diapers from hemp waste.
The students are looking to have a working prototype by the end of August, fine-tune it until the end of December and trial the product with university students in early 2020.