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Scotland’s Lilypads tackles African period poverty through reusable campaign

Posted: 14th May 2020

A business with its origins in tackling the devastating impact of period poverty on girls attending school in rural Kenya is now making its mark on the UK market – and it is doing so in Circular Economy style.

Lilypads may have begun life to tackle an issue in Kenya, but it is the brainchild of University of Edinburgh alumnus Alison Wood, and she continues to build its success from Scotland’s Capital.

She is engaging with a range of organisations and advisors, including Circular Edinburgh.

The way we traditionally design, build, use then dispose of products means that a lot goes to waste. A circular economy looks to keep the flow of materials and products within the economy for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them whilst in use.

The Circular Edinburgh project is supported as part of Zero Waste Scotland’s Resource Efficient Circular Economy Accelerator Programme, which will invest £73m in circular economy and resource efficiency projects, thanks to support from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). This programme provides funding and support for small and medium sized businesses in Scotland to be more resource efficient and create a more circular economy.

In creating an affordable, reusable, comfortable and efficient product, Lilypads is also tackling major environmental issues such as reducing plastic waste as well as the social issue of period poverty.

Alison said: “It began in rural Kenya about two years ago when, while working on a research project, I learned that women could not afford sanitary products and in desperation to remain in school some were exchanging them for sex.

“It changed my path in life. Since then we have worked to reduce the cost of manufacture through changing the design of sanitary pads, whilst ensuring they are a good fit and comfortable.”

A sanitary pad can contain up to 90% plastic. A year’s supply of “ordinary” sanitary pads can have the same CO2 emission as driving a small diesel car almost 60 kilometres. Much of this waste can end up in the sea or washed up on beaches. In rural Africa, disposing of plastic waste can be deeply challenging.

After learning about the level of plastic in disposable products, the business adapted their reusable product for the British market too. Alison added: “Sanitary products are an essential product and the most important criteria for most women is that it doesn’t leak and is comfortable. Alongside that there are also loads of women who are looking to reduce their environmental impact. We can see examples from reducing the plastic bottles we use to utilising public transport.

“However, for many women the prospect of swapping sanitary products is often difficult because it doesn’t fit into their lifestyle. That is why we are producing a product that’s very comfortable, well-fitted AND reusable so instead of being thrown out after each use it can be washed dried and reused for at least two years.”

Lily pads continues to work both overseas and also in the UK providing an affordable, comfortable and environmentally friendly sanitary product. They also provide puberty and mental health education in schools.

Alison would like to see more companies – particularly small businesses – encouraged to pursue the Circular Economy route through the creation of an ecosystem of help and advice to help navigate an easier path. The rewards, she believes, lie not only in improving our business impact on our environment, but also in improved commercial opportunities as more and more consumers are values driven.

For further information please visit or contact Mayan Grace or Lauren Ridgley on 0131 221 2999 (option 5) or email

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