We have all just started having conversations about menstruation. Not too early but nevertheless not too late. Only about 12% of India’s 355 million adult women can afford sanitary products. Despite this, in July 2017, sanitary products were classed as non-essential in India’s latest legislation and taxed at 12%. Resulting in making them even more unavailable to the people who need them. While we are opening up about this so-called taboo, all of us are missing something important. Is the use of sanitary napkins and tampons sustainable?
Some Data to mull over
A woman typically uses about 120 plastic sanitary napkins a year. These single-use and throw away products are approximately 125 kg of sanitary waste generated per person during the menstruating years. When we consider that India has 355 million reproductive women this becomes an enormous amount of sanitary waste for a country that has inadequate solid waste disposal mechanisms.
Commercially available sanitary napkins can take 500-800 years to break down!
Not only these napkins are non-biodegradable but in fact are also risky to one’s health. They are bleached cotton that is flushed with carcinogens which in turn causes irritation and dryness. Other chemicals and plastic substances cause rashes, fungal infections and, in the long term, can result in endocrine disruption or hormonal imbalance.
The amount of plastic one throws into their local dump each time they change a sanitary napkin is the equivalent of each woman menstruating throwing away fifty plastic bags a month.
In areas where there are no waste disposal systems, most of the disposed of napkins and plastic packaging end up in water bodies. Dioxins released through open burning and burying of used napkins has serious health implications and abets in increasing air pollution. Waste pickers separate out soiled napkins from recyclable items by hand, exposing themselves to micro-organisms like E.coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus, HIV and pathogens that cause hepatitis and tetanus.
What’s the solution to these ignored problems?
There are healthier, economical, sustainable and more environmentally friendly ways of managing one’s period. Cloth pads and menstrual cups are ways to solve this problem.
It simply collects blood instead of absorbing it and is made of medical grade silicone which is an inert material. It is a reusable cup and has a one-time cost. Many women who use it share their experiences on various Facebook groups like Boondh, Green the Red and Sustainable Menstruation India. They say that it is comfortable, causes no rashes, itching or burning. Most of the time, women don’t even feel like they are on their period. One can even swim wearing menstrual cups. Menstrual cups are easily available online.
Cloth pads are modern version pads of what most women used before the advent of sanitary napkins. These are pads made of cloth which are reusable. These can go up to three years. They are also super comfortable. Newer variants are easy to wash and dry quickly as well. It’s made of cotton, so it doesn’t irritate the skin. These pads are washed with light detergent and soaked in water. Then it is sun-dried which leaves behind no odour. It’s absolutely safe and sound.
Both are reusable and require basic care and sanitization. It goes without saying that they are good for the environment as they have far less of a carbon footprint than a product like a disposable pad or a tampon. They reduce the amount of plastic waste generated by us in a huge way. The impact of this switch will be positive for women’s health as well as the environment. It is the time we consider the looming garbage crisis and its severe environmental effects. All the more important than ever to talk about ‘the monthly visitor’ and switch to sustainable products to clear the mess it leaves behind.
Reshma is an intern with SheThePeople.TV