'Cupping' the issue: Sterling work by two women in managing menstrual waste

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When Malini Parmar and Smita Kulkarni launched the “she cups” on Stonesoup, 5-10 per cent of the waste being generated in Bengaluru was sanitary waste. Parmar and Kulkarni, both having had strong exposure to the corporate world, wanted to provide solutions and products that would be eco-friendly, as well as economical. The common goal of reducing environmental waste led them to launch Stonesoup in mid-2015. 

Stonesoup gets its name from Stone Soup, an old folk story in which hungry travellers convince the people of a town to share their food in order to make a meal that everyone enjoys. The start-up provides a range of solutions to manage household and menstrual waste — composting kits and blocks, menstrual cups, cloth pads, cloth diapers and natural cleansers to name a few.

“Menstrual cups are waste-free, healthier, economical, and above all, comfortable options for period care,” says Parmar. 

“Women spend a minimum Rs 50-60 per month on sanitary pads. Our menstrual cups range from Rs 835 to Rs 1,200, and each cup can be used for at least 10 years. Now compare that with around Rs 6,000 spent on sanitary pads over that period. Menstrual cups help you save that amount,” adds Kulkarni.

There are variety of options — From the ‘Regular Teal Cup’ to the ‘Soft Green Cup’, the ‘Hard Yellow Cup’ and the ‘Fuchsia’! 

“Made of medical grade silicon, Stonesoup Wings have been designed by us. We are 100 per cent Made in India, unlike other menstrual cups available in the market,” says Parmar, who started her solid waste management journey in 2011. “We have applied for a patent as well. We want to be a global brand.”

To date, Stonesoup has sold around 5,000 cups — that equals the use of around 9 million sanitary pads. 

“As waste volunteers, we experienced that 70 per cent people want to do the right thing as long as someone else has done the thinking and work behind it. We saw solutions and products that could handle waste but either they were not easily available or were a burden on the pockets. So we decided to make sustainable living easy,” adds Parmar.

Together we can: The company works with ‘Saathis’ — entrepreneurs, home makers, students — basically anybody and everybody who wants to be a volunteer.
“We conduct different donation programmes. We also have different groups. ‘Green the red’ is one example. Then there are campaigns like ‘Period love’ and ‘Bleed green’. Also, a lot of households are micro financing the stuff. They spend around Rs 50 per month each, and that translates into a considerable sum,” says Kulkarni. “We also have something called StoneSoup consulting, which works with companies, hotels, apartments and other bulk generators to provide customised solutions.”

Volunteers of ‘green the red’ group include doctors as well. The idea is to include people from every sphere of life so that the message is spread across. “We conduct lots of sessions with doctors. In most cases, even gynaecologists are not aware of the use and advantage of the cups,” says Kulkarni.

Stonesoup has approached the department of women and child development. It is working with gynaecologists across India, as well as municipalities, to promote the use of these cups. It also offers a range of kits to help people compost their wet waste — from the basic ‘Chutki’ to the more complex ‘Badhki’ or ‘Manjli’, or the community composting kit ‘Aaditi’. The start-up has sold more than 2,500 composting kits in the last one year and has saved more than one tonne of organic waste from going into landfills.

The company works with ‘Saathis’ — entrepreneurs, home makers, students — basically anybody and everybody who wants to be a volunteer. It is currently present in 25 cities across the country at 30-40 odd locations, mostly through distributors. Apart from online, the cups are also available in Metro Cash & Carry and Health & Glow stores.

“It is not easy to convince retailers to stock products like menstrual cups. If one uses a product for 10 years, it does not make for a good business proposition,” says Parmar.

But what about the economics of Stonesoup itself? “We share margins with volunteers. Also, for people looking for employment opportunities, this is a good option,”  adds Parmar.


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