Students create winning solution to ‘menstrual poverty’

Eighth graders come up with an affordable tampon

After months of preparation, Haddonfield eighth graders Naveen Khan, Penelope Incollingo, and Amina Lewbart tied for third place at the STEAM Tank Challenge award ceremony on June 13 for their Inclusive Menstruation Tampons that emphasized affordability, environmental impact and gender neutrality. (Special to The Sun/The Sun)

Three Haddonfield eighth graders tied for third earlier this month in the New Jersey School Board Association’s 2022 STEAM Tank Challenge for their project, an affordable, gender neutral and environmentally friendly tampon. 

Penelope Incollingo, Naveen Khan, and Amina Lewbart call their creation I.M. Tampon, the result of seven months working on the project. 

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Though it formally began in December, the trio started work in November as an assignment from their gifted and talented teacher Tina Papa. She wanted the students to improve upon a product on TIME magazine’s 2020 or  2021 best inventions list. 

“It wasn’t just, ‘Oh, change the color of it,’ but they had to pick something and redevelop it,” Papa explained. “Because (with) a lot of inventions, the first one’s not the money maker. It’s always the improvements on the inventions.”

Incollingo came up with the idea of an improved tampon, and after checking the 2020 inventions list, found out about a “tampliner,” a combination of tampon and panty liner, so they decided to move forward with it. 

I.M. Tampon, or “inclusive menstruation,” had three objectives: making tampons more affordable and environmentally friendly, and making them gender neutral to   include trans people. The trio also wanted to address the issue of period poverty.

“[Five-hundred-million] people globally experience period poverty,” Lewbart noted, adding that period poverty is about more than access to or the cost of   menstrual products.

“It’s like not having the water to wash yourself, not having toilet paper,” she said. “It goes far beyond and it affects things like school. Some people can’t go to school because they’re on their period.”

Over a few months, the three girls prepared to face questioning from a STEAM Tank Challenge panel of three to five judges in both the regional and final rounds  of the competition. The annual contest offers students the opportunity for problem-based learning. They are asked to invent something new, modify an existing product or identify an existing situation or problem that needs resolution and present their product to judges who are experts in their fields. The top three teams receive prize money for their school district.

Incollingo, Khan and Lewbart worked on their presentation skills, conducted surveys and research on things like the cost of creating a product and the time it takes to decompose, and created and tested a prototype.

Their tampons would cost $4, an amount calculated by multiplying the cost of materials per tampon times the number of tampons, adding the cost of the box and the cost of donating one for every box sold, and adding $2.40 for labor expenses. 

“It could exist,” Lewbart said. “The main thing about it is there are really low profit  margins, so you don’t make a lot of money off of it.”

She hopes the project takeaway for people will be that periods are normal.

“It doesn’t need to be embarrassing,” she emphasized. “ … It also doesn’t need to be super taboo. It can just be there. It’s regular life.”

To learn more about the STEAM Tank Challenge, visit https://www.njsba.org/services/isteam-2/steam-tank-challenge/

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