Women have used disposable period products since the 1920s as a solution to bleeding and ensuring hygiene. Before eco-friendly pads or tampons were available, materials such as rolled-up paper, grass, and even moss were used. However, with modern development comes waste, as most menstrual pads and tampons are made with plastic.
Period products are made of plastic which can take between 500-800 years to break down in landfills. Considering that the average person will use up to 12,000 period products in their lifetime, much plastic is making its way to landfills or, even worse, our oceans.
Seeing these statistics, Alexa Jocom, a Filipino marketing student at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, USA, was eager to make sustainable period products more accessible and founded Halia, a range of biodegradable plastic-free pads made from bamboo.
As a student in the USA, Jocom had the privilege of the availability of eco-friendly pads, which were not available in her home country. She shared that when going back home to Manila, every period pads in the supermarkets was made of plastic.
“One day, I eventually used up all my stash of organic pads when I was home in Manila. When I had to go back to using the traditional plastic pads, it felt uncomfortable, and the difference was shocking,” shared Jocom in an interview with Viable Earth.
She said that the experience made her realise that she has been using plastic pads ever since she got her first period, thinking about how menstruators in developing countries like the Philippines have limited access to better period care products.
“I particularly became interested in how science and technology are combined with nature’s solutions to create more sustainable materials. As I dove deeper, I realised that these could be applied beyond the fashion industry – they could also be used for everyday items (like period care products).”
Halia eco-friendly pads are available in two variants: regular for normal days and super for heavier days. They are also offered as a “Cloud Kit” where people can customise the content according to their needs.
The pads are made with bamboo, with a back sheet and wrappers made from cornstarch.
Jocom said she chose bamboo instead of cotton because it is less water and pesticide-intensive, while cornstarch is biodegradable compared to petroleum-based plastic, like those traditionally used in period pads in the market.
“Because of this, our pads do not stay in the landfill as long as regular plastic pads do. From 500-800 years for traditional pads, Halia just takes six months to two years, depending on the conditions,” she added.
Launching the start-up wasn’t an easy feat, she recalls.
“I think the most challenging part was starting. I honestly didn’t know how to start or what step I should start. I just knew I had to.”
“I didn’t want it to be a conventional period brand; I wanted it to make a statement while being real – to be a start of a conversation about periods and menstrual health, especially in a country like the Philippines where most people still view period topics as taboo.”
Jocom said Halia was established to provide people with a bridge to more sustainable choices, and the brand is happy to support everyone’s journey to less period waste.
“It doesn’t matter if someone is using plastic-free pads, cups, tampons, or other reusables, then we are happy that more people are taking these steps and consciously making better choices for their bodies and the planet.”
However, Halia pads are not yet 100 per cent biodegradable. According to Jocom, the company is working towards developing products that use regenerative raw materials in Asia – specifically the Philippines – to support farmers and help communities in the process.
“We would like to help women and girls fight period poverty and have more access to menstrual products. We hope to make pads more affordable or come at a minimal cost around the country,” Jocom concluded.