Sustainable Menstruation: The Big Elephant In The Room

Posted by FitbeWell_Blog in Menstruation
February 22, 2018

I don’t really know if you grew up as an Indian tween or teen during the late 90s. Well, I vividly remember those ads which tried hard to brush over hygienic practices during menstruation. Yet they chose to maintain the hush-hush tempo of a very natural life process by deeming it for “Un dino mein (During those days).” The voice over, all the more, used to protect the so-called sanctity of menstruation, by specifically hushing the tone of this phrase. Right from using those choicest privy phrases then, to hurling commercials featuring models pulling off trekking expeditions on their period now.  Sigh. I swear, sanitary pads have come a long way. PERIOD.

Disposable sanitary napkins, beyond the shadow of any doubt, have made many of our lives lighter (pun intended). There have been several mums who switched to the revolution in order to make the most ‘awaited yet icky transition phase for their daughters hassle-free.

You’re all set, carrying the pads well in advance as you expect your monthly visitor, and thank yourself for that when you suddenly start chumming elsewhere but home. So you hail this spongy pad as that heavenly bit of convenience you tuck in your underpants. To be honest, I’m also that person who has had problems with the pharmacist smothering the pack of these pads with at least two covers of newspaper and a black plastic bag.

Thankfully, things are changing pretty fast in metro cities like Bangalore, where I live. It’s a heartening thing to see girls and women asking for a pad loud enough that the pharmacists now don’t depend on their coy body language or lip movements as their cue to give it to them. Phew!

And that prompts me to talk about some really dark facts about our menstruation and pads, particularly in India.

Do you know what made that girl in one of those ads dry out an entire swimming pool with her pad? (I know you’re just about to bash me left and right, assuming I took it for real!)

Do You Know Where Your Sanitary Pad Goes After You Dispose It?

Unfortunately, in India, the entire task of scavenging is manual. Right from the door-to-door collection of garbage to the segregation and the final dump/incineration or any further processing. Almost none of the scavengers even wear masks and gloves. Neither do we segregate our waste mindfully into wet, dry (including plastic discards), abandoned fabric and biomedical waste.

Biomedical waste is how the government guideline classifies things such as sanitary pads, used earbuds, blood-soaked bandages, and condoms. Because, all of our body fluids or refuse when dealt with bare hands or are dumped into landfills, open doors to life-threatening infections and diseases.

What Can You Do To Make Your Pad Less Hazardous?

Flush it down? No! You’d never ever want to call a plumber someday to clear the blockage down your commode after that, would you?

Burn it? Most of these commercial pads contain crazy chemicals in the name of ‘absorbent gel’ and bleach, which release carcinogenic toxins and vapors into the air when burnt. The same goes with incinerators that often lack the infrastructure to neutralize and reuse the harmful by-products from incineration. This, practice is, though, followed in many foreign countries quite discriminately under a controlled, systematic environment; which makes sense.

None of them really resonated with the smart and responsible version of you. Right?

Then, How Do You Get Into Sustainable Menstruation?

I’d press over the word “THINK”!

Wash the used sanitary napkin under running water to rinse it, and squeeze it. Alternatively, you could disintegrate the pad to strip it completely from the net-woven plastic covering. All you’d be left with is the cotton; wash it & squeeze the water out. Dispose the plastic parts into the plastic garbage bin/bag. There’s perhaps no need to make room for disgust as it is your own blood. Pack it into at least two newspaper layers of cover and either mark it with a red cross, or put this into a separate pink or red coloured bag. Make it obvious for the scavengers to identify this as biomedical waste.

So, before your pad becomes a dreaded vehicle of infections to somebody at the other receiving end, you’re clearing it up.

There are a few sanitary pad manufacturers which produce 100% biodegradable pads. Meaning, they easily decompose upon burial or incineration, and hence, do not contribute to environmental waste.

When it comes to menstrual alternatives, the concept of reuse and recycle seem to be terrifying practices by those women who don’t use sanitary pads to deal with their periods. We, particularly, refer to the rural women population who’ve always seen menstruation through the stigma of shame, isolation, a bad omen, impurity and what not. The very beautiful natural process that makes you able to have your offspring is considered evil. Menstruation faces the level of disgust that even shit stops feeling filthy or denigrated.

Appallingly, like we’ve heard lately, these women use dirty cloths even unworthy of becoming hand mops. Many of them resort to cement bags, rags, hay and every wacky thing you couldn’t imagine of tucking into your underwear. If it’s a cloth, it doesn’t see the sunlight when put for drying.

There are various affordable brands of reusable cloth pads available online today. These are crafted to resemble the design of the conventional sanitary napkins, can be maintained well if washed with utmost care and hygiene. These cloth pads too boast of good absorbency and placement. However, they need to be washed with warm water and be dried in the sun.

Menstrual cups, are also popular today when it comes to sustainable menstruation. Many of my friends have taken to the switch quite positively despite the various apprehensions surrounding the usage of menstrual cups. And, most women who have used them have quite a lot of good things to say. Now, wouldn’t you want to help yourself into a much cleaner environment, while not compromising over your health?