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Addressing period poverty through climate-smart actions: Leticia and Deborah from Fibre Trans-Waste

Universities are bustling hubs of creativity, where young minds gather to explore, learn and dream. Within these institutions, students find themselves immersed in a world of ideas and possibilities, fueled by the energy of youthful ambition.


It is within this context that the founders of Fibre Trans-Waste, Leticia and Deborah, emerge. Whilst students at the African Leadership University (ALU), the young founders quietly shaped a future where sustainability and social impact converge.


Through Fibre Trans-Waste, they plan to produce biodegradable menstrual hygiene products, to tackle a dual challenge – period poverty and environmental waste.


Leticia and Deborah are the twelfth co-founders in our series on Africa’s Hidden Gems – a series that amplifies African entrepreneurs who are tackling the continent’s sustainability challenges with innovative solutions.


From Shared Passion to Powerful Partnership


Throughout this series, I’ve been struck by the diverse stories that underpin each entrepreneurial venture. Behind each endeavour lies a unique journey, fueled by personal experiences and motivations, and a deep commitment to making a difference.  Leticia and Deborah are no exception.


Growing up in Ghana, both were keenly aware of the challenges surrounding menstrual hygiene — how expensive and inaccessible pads were, and the misconception that surrounded the topic.


Deborah vividly recalled that as a child she has mistaken sanitary pads for sweets because of their brightly coloured packaging. However, the illusion quickly shattered when she took them to the counter and asked how much they cost!


A few years later, she got her first sanitary towels in a package provided by CAMFED, an organisation dedicated to advancing female education. However, she initially had no idea what they were until a friend explained their purpose - highlighting the lack of education and awareness surrounding menstrual health in her community.


Both Deborah and Leticia were beneficiaries of organisations dedicated to female empowerment and education – CAMFED and African Gifted Foundation, respectively. These experiences and the support they received have deeply influenced their commitment to making a difference and empowering women.


When the two met at university and shared stories, it seemed, in Leticia’s words, like the perfect “opportunity to join forces with somebody with the same passion and the same interest as me.”


A dual challenge: period poverty, overflowing landfills and NOT missing school.


The struggle against period poverty, environmental degradation and access to education intersects, creating a challenge that demands urgent attention and innovative solutions.


As Deborah explains, period poverty “is when people can't access or afford menstrual hygiene products.”  Globally, around 500 million women and girls have no access to menstrual products. Using Leticia and Deborah’s home country Ghana as an example, according to the research by the BBC in 2023, a woman in Ghana earning a minimum wage of $26 a month would need to spend $3 buying two packets of sanitary towels – a total of eight pads. That’s over 11% of her monthly income!


Consequently, women and girls, particularly in rural areas, resort to makeshift solutions like cloth rags lined with plastic sheets, cement paper bags, and dried plantain stems. The widespread use of non-recyclable and non-biodegradable disposable menstrual products has detrimental effects on the environment.


Did you know that conventional pads contain up to 90% plastic and take around 600-800 years to decompose in landfills? Added to that, many people resort to burning, burying, or disposing of these products in toilets or latrines. A major contributor to land pollution. 


However, the issue is not just one of hygiene and decency but one that affects girls' education. As many as 95% of Ghanaian girls miss classes each year due to menstrual health, and around 9 in 10 girls are absent from school during their menses.


Addressing period poverty and its environmental and social consequences requires holistic solutions that prioritise accessibility, affordability, and sustainability. Enter stage right, Fibre Trans-Waste!


Inside Fibre Trans-Waste’s innovative approach


Recognising the exorbitant costs and the environmental toll associated with conventional products, Leticia and Deborah embarked on a mission to develop a sustainable alternative.


Their flagship product is a 100% biodegradable plant-based sanitary pad made using waste from certain agricultural products. Unlike traditional pads that contain up to 90% plastic and persist in landfills for centuries, Fiber Trans-Waste's pads decompose easily, minimising harm to the environment.


The waste used in their products will be purchased from farmers, thereby reducing bush burning and providing farmers with an additional source of income. Leticia highlights the dual benefit of this, stating, “As a solution that sources its raw materials from farmlands, we are providing another source of income to farmers whose alternative is only either burn this waste or dispose of it, which doesn't fetch them any income.”


Although Deborah and Leticia are still very much in the startup phase, they have big plans.   In addition to producing sanitary pads, Leticia explains "we plan to introduce technology that will enable easy accessibility of a single product at a time, helping to address affordability issues and saving them from embarrassment". As Deborah aptly puts it, this will help women and girls get "sanitary pads easily or without stress."  So, watch this space!


For these two young co-founders, Fibre Trans-Waste is much more than just a business venture. It's a mission to revolutionise menstrual hygiene management and empower women at the grassroots level. As they explained to me, they are bringing women’s empowerment “back to basics” by creating a world where “all women have the basic necessities they need to pursue the goals that they want to pursue.”


Overcoming hurdles


Embarking on their entrepreneurial journey, Leticia and Deborah have encountered their fair share of challenges. Yet, armed with determination and resilience, they pressed on, navigating the twists and turns with unwavering optimism.


Leticia and Deborah dived headfirst into the world of sanitary pad production, eager to kickstart their venture. However, their initial enthusiasm was met with disappointment as they discovered a disheartening reality: “We visited some sanitary pad production companies, and sadly, most of them had shut down.” They reckon this is partly a result of high taxes and the high maintenance costs associated with machinery.


This left them scrambling to find alternative solutions, forcing them to pivot and explore new avenues. As they explained to me, they have gone for simpler manual and semi-automatic machinery in the hope that running and maintenance costs will be lower. 


And then there’s the age-old struggle of every startup – funding. “Starting up, you really need financial support,” admits Deborah. They’ve explored various avenues, from crowdsourcing to grant applications, to get the initial funding needed to customise machines and develop their MVP.


The pair remain on the lookout for individuals who can provide valuable guidance and mentorship. While they are young and brimming with vision, they recognise the importance of leveraging the experience and expertise of seasoned professionals to navigate the complexities of entrepreneurship.


Who knows?  Maybe as you read this piece, you see yourself as the solution or part of the solution to these challenges.



What’s Next


In my hour-long chat with Leticia and Deborah, I was struck by their unique mix of youthful optimism and down-to-earth pragmatism.


Undeterred by the challenges – or maybe because of the challenges – they offer insights gained from their own journey. “When you're trying to build something, you should go into it with passion,” Deborah insists. Leticia echoes her sentiment, emphasising the importance of staying true to your vision: “You should look at the impact you want to have. Follow your passion, the vision you foresee – that will keep you going,” she says.


These two young women urge other young aspiring entrepreneurs to have the confidence to go for it! “I want them to know that the world is ready for their solutions,” Leticia declares. Deborah nods in agreement. “They have to have confidence in their dreams, but at the same time they shouldn't underestimate the help of those who have already made it in the field,” she adds.


Their vision? “To walk into the village in Chuchuliga, in the Upper East Region of Ghana, one day and find no girl crying over the unaffordability of menstrual hygiene products. To see no school complaining about female absences due to menstrual issues. And to witness every male in the community understanding and supporting them.”


It's great to see these two stepping into the realm of entrepreneurship at such a young age. I’m eager to see where their path leads!



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