Sanitary napkins. They are our saviours during the toughest days of the month and we can’t even fathom how much they’ve been there for us. However, sanitary napkins are depleting our environment’s resources and damaging it at an alarming rate.
It’s so easy to dispose of a sanitary napkin. They go straight in the bin and you don’t even think about it twice. However, they leave behind a nasty environmental trail.
Even though only 12% among the 355 million women who are of menstruating age in India can afford disposable sanitary napkins, they will throw away approximately 433 million napkins every month (which equates to nearly 150 kg of waste).
As a result, they create mountains of waste in landfills and since they don’t decompose easily, they will likely remain there for the next 500 years. They can end up in rivers, streams and even oceans where they pose a serious threat to animals if they try to consume it.
Not just that, toxic chemicals used in the production of sanitary napkins are carcinogenic and can leak out into the atmosphere.
Biodegradable napkins are a game-changer in this regard. They are slowly being introduced into the market. The idea was first introduced by an MIT startup that wanted to revolutionise the way sanitary napkins were produced and distributed across India, with a special focus on the accessibility of these products in rural areas where 88% of the country uses rags, newspapers, wood shavings and even ash as alternatives to its polymer counterparts.
Many of these women also have to miss school or work as they do not have the right products at their disposal. With the introduction of these napkins, menstruation would be much less of a problem for them.
As the name suggests, they are designed for disposal; all their components are made from sustainable and environment-friendly materials, such as banana fibres, which take much less time to decompose in landfills and can even be reused for compost and biogas.
The production of these napkins also means that there is a source of steady income for the farmers who wish to get rid of their waste banana fibre, and for rural women who manufacture them.
Not only does it reduce the collection of waste in landfills, it also means having to rely on fewer resources in the production of these napkins.
Currently, normal disposable sanitary napkins use up crude oil, which is a non-renewable source and forms carbon dioxide as a by-product of combustion. Meanwhile, biodegradable napkins have little to no carbon footprint.
They are also softer and pose less of a threat to consumers as there is nothing toxic in them. A startup company has already been launched in rural areas, called Saathi Pads. The word saathi means companion in Hindi and also signifies that napkins are also a companion to the earth.
While this is a great idea and has multiple benefits, we should also consider the downsides. It takes much longer to manufacture biodegradable napkins, especially in different sizes, shapes, absorbency levels and smells which are available to us with regular napkins.
It will also take a long time for the napkins to be available for more rural women to use, and they might not even be at an affordable price. Currently, a single such napkin is priced between ₹260-₹285.It would take tremendous efforts for these products to be used in rural parts of India. They need to be made aware, educated and informed about the use of such products.
It would take tremendous efforts for these products to be used in rural parts of India. They need to be made aware, educated and informed about the use of such products.
Additionally, these products don’t have the absorbing capacity of a regular napkin due to the nature of the components used, which means they will need to be changed more, which could make them more expensive.
At the end of the day, access to menstrual hygiene is not a privilege; it is a basic need and for some women, it’s incredibly difficult to accommodate this into their lives. Biodegradable pads seem like the perfect idea and it would be wonderful if they flourish in India in the next few years.