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Eforos: A Circular Economy for Feminine Hygiene Products

Eforos: A Circular Economy for Feminine Hygiene Products 

Eforos—the word for fertile in Greek—is a system blueprint for the collection and recycling of used feminine hygiene products. It is inspired by the “Leave No Trace” ethos, and the extra care women have to take when having their periods while engaging in the outdoors.

The Challenge

Despite the introduction of innovative products like Thinx underwear and the menstrual cup in the feminine hygiene product market, the majority of women still use tampons and pads during menstruation. These products are one-time-use, and are traditionally disposed of in landfills. Given that a woman might use 17,000 pads in her lifetime, and that about half the world’s population menstruates, Alexia decided to investigate ways in which to turn this traditionally linear and wasteful economy, into a circular one.

Proposed Solution

Through the Eforos system blueprint, designed for urban environments, the used menstrual products—which include both synthetic and natural materials and are already typically separated in women’s bathrooms—are gathered using the Eforos Bin, which attaches to the edge of the classic trash barrel that custodial staff use to collect the rest of the trash. They are then sent to a special facility not unlike the "Knowaste" recycling facility in the UK, which has proven that these materials can be separated and re-introduced into a technical cycle (i.e. plastics are refined and made into new products, while natural materials can be composted and used to grow more cotton); transforming a traditionally wasteful and linear process into a circular economy.

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Traditional Linear Economy

Proposed Circular Economy

Potential Impact Size

The effort would be rolled out in collaboration with public schools in NYC, starting with used products being collected from about 10,000 women and girls. This first effort has the potential to divert approximately 33 metric tons of material from landfills every year, with further impact as it is adopted by more schools across the city. Partnerships with the city of New York and brands like Always, celebratory campaigns, as well as educational programs in public schools, would work together to make periods something to celebrate and not to dread.

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Theory of Change

 

Proposed Campaign and Partnership

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Initial Ideation

The first exploration of the system began with the idea of transforming used feminine hygiene products made of 100% cotton into compost, similar to the collection process of compost we already see in private spaces like our compostable kitchen waste at Products of Design, or even public efforts by the city of NY. This was interesting since research shows that menstrual blood has nutrients that could be useful for plants. It quickly became obvious that this effort would have to be more grassroots/community-based, as it would involve ensuring that all participants were using only 100% cotton products. In order to create a bigger impact—considering that the majority of menstrual products used today include synthetics—the system would need to be a bit more complex. Alexia discovered the Knowaste facility in the UK, which already recycles diapers, incontinence and feminine hygiene products from daycare spaces and hospitals. This provided great insight for Eforos as a bigger system, especially when reading some of the studies that Knowaste has commissioned by Deloitte to look into the life cycle of these products. (4)

The decision to focus on high school and middle school girls came from the desire to tackle some of the insecurities and shame that this age group develops during their teenage years. One encouraging piece of news announced this past march by Governor of NY Andrew Cuomo, through his Twitter account, is that “Schools in New York State will now be required to provide free menstrual products in restrooms for girls in grades 6 through 12.” As he explained, “Menstrual products are as necessary as toilet paper and soap, but can be one expense too many for struggling families.”  This not only reinforces the fact that menstruation is as natural as all other non-gendered bodily necessities, but it is also evidence that cities such as NY could become the perfect partners for a system like Eforos.

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