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MaskIt created product to reduce waste

About 20 billion menstrual products end up in landfills every year, according to Shallan Ramsey, CEO and founder of Ashland-based MaskIt.

Ramsey’s solution for proper disposal of feminine hygiene products and reduction of contact of bloodborne pathogens in public restrooms was a simple leak-proof, odor-blocking baggie made from plant-based biofilm.

Her product, which she started making in 2014, is on the rise as more people become aware of the fact that the women’s restroom is one of the few places where blood is ignored. MaskIt has received several awards in its six years of business and was mostly recently recognized last October with the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network’s Tom Holce Entrepreneurship Award for the “game changer” category.

The award ceremony recognizes seven categories of entrepreneurship. The game changer award recognizes both nonprofit and for profit companies that offer a solution to a social problem.

Ramsey said it was an honor to be recognized at the state level because start-ups in Southern Oregon don’t generally have as many advantages as Portland companies in terms of capital, people and travel.

“Going against well-funded other start-up companies in Portland and to be the winner is a validation of everything I’ve worked so hard to accomplish,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey calculated that a single tampon can be covered in as many as 26 sheets of toilet paper when disposed of, which results in about one roll of paper for 10 tampons. Considering 2 billion menstrual products are disposed of every year, that results in about 140,000 trees wasted just to cover up menstrual products.

“If we could get 10% of menstrual items used in the U.S. on an annual basis to use MaskIt, we would save approx 147,000 trees every year,” Ramsey said. “It’s a significant impact we can make.”

She said she first realized how much waste went into disposing of menstrual products after moving with two teenage girls to Ashland in 2010 onto a property with a septic tank.

It was then that she began tinkering with prototypes by cutting up a plastic tablecloth, she said.

Although sustainability is a huge driving factor in her business, her main passion is improving the health of women.

“Menstrual blood is blood, and bloodborne pathogens such as Hep B, Hep C and MRSA can remain live in dried blood for up to a week,” Ramsey said. “Think about all the points of contact you have in a public restroom — from flushing the toilet to opening the stall and washing your hands.”

Ramsey said most women aren’t aware of the risks.

She said she realized this while working in a hospital several years before creating MaskIt. In hospitals, schools, lobbies of businesses and other public places, there are strict guidelines with how to deal with blood, but not in restrooms, and the risk is just the same.

“Realistically, we can even save lives,” Ramsey said. “More people die from MRSA each year than A.I.D.S.”

MaskIt is currently used in about 45 airports, more than 60 colleges and universities, multiple health care environments, several school districts and several companies across the country.

Her company also offers free puberty education kits to public and private schools in the U.S., which include MaskIts, goodies and an educational video on how to properly dispose of feminine hygiene products to minimize the risk of contamination.

To learn more, see maskit.us.

The plastic baggies Ramsey used are made from plant-based biodegradable film.

“Seeing my dream challenging outdated cultural norms while improving health and safety with a sustainable solution makes all the hardships well worth it,” Ramsey said.

Contact Ashland Tidings freelancer Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com.

Shallan Ramsey