Conventional sanitary napkins : boon or a bane?

Conventional sanitary napkins : boon or a bane?

Sanitary napkins came as a boon to menstruating women by easing their menstrual management but as every other innovation it too has it’s own pros and cons. But, sometimes cons become so dominating that it becomes a serious threat to our environment and life. Thus an urgent need arises to look for better alternatives to protect our Earth.

Women are blessed with the power to give birth and for this they bleed every month generally from 13 to 45 years of age. Though it’s a very natural process still the social stigma attached to it makes it an undercover affair. One conventional disposable sanitary pad contains plastic equivalent to 4 plastic bags! If we know this fact, then what steps are we taking to reduce the damage caused to our environment by these menstrual products?

According to studies, an estimate of 9,000 tons of sanitary waste (432 million pads) is generated annually in India, the potential to cover landfills spread over 24 hectares. Commercial disposable sanitary pads take 500 to 800 years to decompose when left in landfills. If we refer to the estimates, a menstruating woman disposes at least 5,000 sanitary napkins in her lifetime which is 45% of the menstrual waste collected across India.

These datas are horrifying and demands for better attention towards this issue. Problems caused by these disposable sanitary napkins and available eco-friendly alternatives and other strategies that can be opted for greener menstrual waste management are discussed below.

What are the harmful impacts of conventional sanitary napkins?

Plastic containing sanitary napkins and tampons are not a threat to our environment but also it’s harmful for a woman’s health who is using them and for the health of other living organisms coming in contact with these waste. Improper menstrual waste management has lead to soil, water and air pollution since these wastes are non-biodegradable and remain unattended.

Though menstrual blood are harmless to our soil but those commercial sanitary pads which contain 70-90% of plastic and have chlorine-bleached Kraft or sulphate pulp to make fluff pulp absorbent become harmful to our soil when buried. Deodorised sanitary products contain harmful chemicals like organochlorines which kill the microflora of soil and delay the process of decomposition.

Menstrual waste of HIV infected women carries viruses which remain in our soil for long time and cause damage.

Chemicals and synthetic material used in these pads reach our water bodies through rain water thus polluting it and thus disturbing marine life. Lack of awareness and menstrual shaming is big hurdle in the way of menstrual waste management in India.

Flushing of sanitary napkins cause clogging of drains. Manual cleaning of these drains have adverse health impacts on these workers. Incineration of sanitary napkins releases harmful gases causing air pollution. Sanitary napkins can be eaten by stray animals which can even lead to their death. Used sanitary napkins thrown in open becomes breeding place for mosquitoes and flies which become vector to many infections and diseases.

Green the Red : available alternatives and strategies

Some possible ways by which we can reduce the threat caused by menstrual waste are listed below.

– Focussing on sex education and awareness programmes. We need to break the myths, stereotypes and beliefs linked with menstruation and its management. Menstural shaming should be ousted from our society so that adololescent girls and women can talk about it in openly. Awareness programmes should be encouraged by government and non-government organisations so that people know about better and sustainable ways to handle menstrual waste.

– Today, menstrual cups are best available alternative present in market. These are made up of medical grade silicone rubber and are cost-effective. Tampons made up of materials like bamboo, wool, cotton, or hemp are also among the eco-friendly menstrual product. Sea-Sponge tampons are also a remarkable innovation.

– Reusable and washable sanitary pads made up of cotton, bamboo fibre, banana fibre and water hyacinth are some of the best alternatives. Labia pads and period underwear are also women-friendly products.

– Clay Incinerators are another remarkable innovation of Swati Bededkar, member of Vatsalya foundation. Incinerators can be made up of mud and cement also. These can be installed in schools and offices.

– Latrines with chutes and pit latrines should be constructed to develop women friendly toilets.

– Role of Government and need for strict laws : Strict laws should be made for corporate companies manufacturing menstrual product. Guidelines should be set for them to use environment friendly components in menstrual products

How far have we come, and where do we need to reach?

In the last decade, the eco-friendly menstrual products came to be known to people through initiatives of environmentalists and non-government women oragnisation.

Even there was a movie, Pad Man based on biography of Arunachalan Muruganatham who innovated biodegradable sanitary pads. We came across Vicky Nolan known as Cup Woman who is consistently working in Goa and other nearby areas to spread awareness about menstrual cups. Many organisations such as SaathiPads and EcoFemme are working to empower women by giving them employment in manufacturing units of reusable cloth pads.

But, we need to go long way because large population of our country is still devoid of sustainable and hygienic menstrual products. We should come together to spread awareness and fight taboos, myths and patriarchal influence on menstrual shaming and other norms. Let’s help every woman to embrace her womanhood in an eco-friendly way. It’s only too late if we don’t start now.

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