As normal as it is, menstruation was and continues to be, in some parts of the world, stigmatized and treated as a hush-hush topic. In the last few years, however, its mention has come to acquire normalcy in daily conversations. There is wide agreement about promoting menstrual health and hygiene management.
The latest government data indicates that the adoption of sanitary pads is growing gradually. While it becomes a matter of relief in a country where alternatives are devastating for the health, on the other hand it aggravates the current environmental condition. The use of disposable sanitary pads, which contain 70-90% plastic, poses the following issues - most of which are seriously concerning:
Non-biodegradability of Sanitary Pads
According to National Family Health Survey report, 2015-2016 roughly 36% of menstruating women in India use sanitary pads. Assuming that eight pads are used in one menstrual cycle, we get around 12.3 billion sanitary pads in need of proper disposal every year. It’s a huge environmental challenge for it takes 500-800 years for one sanitary pad to decompose completely.
Lack of Menstrual Waste Management
A study conducted by Menstrual Health Alliance India states that 45% of sanitary waste products are disposed of with regular household waste. Lack of solid waste interventions to effectively segregate and identify menstrual waste during routine garbage collection results in 113,000 tonnes of used sanitary pads being dumped in India every year. In the absence of a proper menstrual waste management system, women are forced to dispose them in ways that adds to the current environmental crisis.
Due to improper disposal methods, an enormous amount of sanitary waste ends up being thrown in the landfills, contaminating soil and aquifers below the ground or blocking the drainage channels. Burning this waste at inadequate temperature further complicates the problem by releasing carcinogenic toxins like furans and dioxins in the atmosphere. The ashes of incinerated waste further contaminate the soil and water.
There is very little awareness about the use of plastic based sanitary pads and their long-term impact on the health. Health experts have raised serious concerns over use of these pads. The plastic in the sanitary pads effectively traps the moisture within but on the other hand provides a breeding ground for several bacterial and fungal infections. In some cases, it can also lead to inflammatory diseases.
An Indian woman spends about Rs. 300 per month in buying pads or tampons. Assuming that menstrual age lasts for 30 years, this number crosses over 1 lakh rupees. Due to high costs, millions of adolescent girls rely on the government supplies of menstrual hygienic products. Little has been done to create awareness about cheaper and more sustainable alternatives.
Is there an alternative that could tackle these problems? Yes. Several companies and small businesses have come up with environment friendly and economical alternatives to plastic based sanitary pads. A few of them have gone a step further in making available options of reusable and washable cotton pads. Since these cotton pads are produced with eco-friendly material, they eliminate the risk of exposure to infections. Along with the mentioned benefits, these pads are cost-efficient and can be easily afforded.
Enactus JMI, through its Project Shrimati, has undertaken the responsibility of doing its bit in tackling the environmental issues posed by plastic based sanitary pads. It manufactures reusable sanitary napkins containing banana and bamboo fiber. The products come out to not only be rash free but also durable and easily affordable. This also contributes to the main objectives of the Swachh Bharat Mission.
On a concluding note, it must be said that it is time to raise more awareness about the biodegradable products that will help tackle the problem of disposal of products containing plastic. Indeed, such products should be made available to a large section and that is where we, with our Project, are heading to.