Real Innovation Awards 2017: The George Bernard Shaw Unreasonable Person joint winner

Martha Silcott had to develop the 'skin of two rhinos' to get her business off the ground. Now her biodegradable FabLittleBags are revolutionising the way women dispose of tampons.

Last Updated: 02 Nov 2017

‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself,’ said George Bernard Shaw. ‘Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’

Progress also depends on the unreasonable woman. Take former City-worker-turned-entrepreneur Martha Silcott, for example.

The inspiration for Silcott’s business came to her when she was sitting on the toilet. She was faced with every woman's dilemma: should she flush her tampon, causing pollution, or have the unpleasant task of wrapping it in tissue and hoping for a bin? She felt sure there must be a better way for women to dispose of tampons. There wasn’t – so she decided to invent one herself. Her vision was FabLittleBag, an opaque, biodegradable, disposal bag that could be opened one-handed and sealed closed.

There are 9.3 million women using tampons in the UK, with the average woman using roughly 11,000 tampons in her lifetime. Most women don’t know that you’re not supposed to flush tampons, and that ignorance is costing the environment. Sewer blockages caused by 1.4bn flushed tampons cost water companies £80m a year to clear.

FabLittleBag had the potential to clear up such messy matters – but manufacturers told Silcott that her invention was impossible to produce. Eventually, she commissioned a bespoke machine. Lawyers said her design couldn't be protected, but seven years later she emerged with the patent. She faced down the taboo around periods, often handing tampons to squeamish retailers and investors (nearly always men) to showcase the product. ‘It took long years to secure patents on the unique design, and yet more years to pioneer a new manufacturing method, create a brand, figure out a heap of stuff I had no idea about,’ says Silcott, admitting she had to ‘develop the skin of two rhinos’ to get the business off the ground.

FabLittleBags have now found their way into the bathrooms and handbags of women across Europe, the US, Singapore and Australia. Costing £2.99 for 20 bags, they are sold in retail stores such as Waitrose and Wholefoods, and online at Ocado and Amazon. Five UK water companies use FabLittleBag in their educational campaigns, and research with Mumsnet and Anglian Water shows that FabLittleBag is a great converter of flushers to binners – a 97% conversion rate. It just goes to show what you can achieve with bloody mindedness.