U of A social enterprise wins $10,000 to make biodegradable menstrual pads a reality

Hempact, a startup created by University of Alberta students, was recently awarded $10,000 towards their mission of combating excess hemp waste in Alberta.

The group is looking into creating a biodegradable menstrual pad using hemp. They’re also working towards destigmatizing menstruation by hosting workshops in schools across Edmonton. First started in 2017 at an innovation competition in Drayton Valley, Hempact was picked up by Enactus UAlberta, a club that supports student-created social enterprises as a means to create a more sustainable future.

Back in March, the group won $10,000 at the World’s Challenge semi-finals, a competition that has students propose an idea centred around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. They’ll be competing in the international version of the competition on June 2 at Western University.

Nicole Sanchez, fourth-year business student and lead project manager of Hempact, says the use of hemp will help reduce the landfill waste created by menstrual products.

“We aim to create an alternative to menstrual hygiene pads that is 100 per cent biodegradable,” she said.

Sanchez says that since the majority of hemp in Alberta is used to create oil, many dried plants get left behind that usually end up in landfills. Using this dried excess stock to their advantage, Hempact wants to create a pad that won’t sit in a landfill for decades. In the lab, they’ve divided up the components of the menstrual pad and are currently focusing on making every layer environmentally friendly.

Khadra Ahmed A prototype of Hempact’s biodegradable pad.

“It’s been such a huge process because when we first started it was only two or three people who were working here,” she said. “When I started… there was only one guy trying to do all the research. There’s been and a lot of setbacks, but right now we got a few team members.”

The student group hopes to take their business out of Enactus one day and make it a stand-alone social enterprise. Using their recent award, they plan to release a prototype this summer and an actual product by January 2020.

For Sanchez, everyone has a reason to care about the impacts of menstruation on the environment, as well as the stigma that surrounds it.

“Even though you’re a guy you still have your mom, your sister, your girlfriend, your partner,” she said. “For girls, you experience menstruation and you don’t think about the amount of waste that you accumulate per year. You should care because the environment is suffering a lot.”

Haley Dang

Haley Dang is a elementary education student who writes and takes photos for The Gateway. When there's no snow on the ground, she enjoys spending time in her garden growing petunias. As long as snow is falling, though, she’ll be hiding indoors with a cup of tea.

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