Amidst the whispers and hush-hush affair lingering around the menstruation cycle of women, “Padman” came up to glorify the man behind low-cost sanitary napkins. We may think that Arunachalam Muruganantham’s story has come to serve the purpose – but hey, has any thought ever been given to the way sanitary napkins are disposed?
For years, menstruation remained a topic of silent conversations that should take place behind the veil. This very attitude towards it resulted in women having nearly no awareness regarding menstrual hygiene. Since periods are still a taboo subject, and the women often hesitate to speak about it, the disposal of sanitary napkins is also not being taken care of. It is found that women in India are uncomfortable with the idea of discussing their monthly plight – and hence, they often resort to taking a path that is comfortable, even though it may not be viable.
Usually, sanitary napkins are wrapped in plastic or paper and thrown along with the domestic waste. Some flush them down not realising that it will ultimately block the sewer. A survey in Pune in 2013 revealed that the women were unaware of the potential threats of sanitary napkins – and many of them dump them in open fields. 63% of the women admitted that they didn’t have any proper provision for disposing their sanitary waste in their workplaces, while an overwhelming majority of the girls said that they feel ashamed of throwing it or handing them over to the waste pickers. This dismal state of an essential component of the life of half India’s population has gripped the minds of the intellectuals repeatedly.
Around 432 million pads/sanitary napkins are generated in India annually, weighing around 9000 tonnes. They can cover landfills spread over 24 hectares. The burning of sanitary napkins produces toxic fumes that contain dioxins and furan. These disposed menstrual products pose a threat to the health of the waste-pickers when they come in their contact to segregate them.
The unhygienic and reckless means of disposing the used sanitary napkins adversely affect the environment. The heaps of soiled waste in the landfills contaminate the soil, air and water. The lack of standardised methods of sustainable sanitary waste disposal has paved the way for them to become a breeding ground for infections and diseases in India.
Despite such grave situations, the government is least bothered about devising solutions for this problem. On the other hand, there are many NGOs and small companies that have come forward to help tackle this issue for the sake of our health.
1. Eco Femme, a women-led social enterprise based in Tamil Nadu, manufactures washable cloth pads as an alternative to disposable pads.
2. SWaCH is an NGO which is manufacturing biodegradable sanitary garbage bags from used newspapers. These bags can be easily used to identify such kind of wastes by-waste pickers. The Red Dot Campaign in Pune does a similar kind of thing.
3. Shecup is a menstrual cup that is made of silicone and is worn internally to collect the menstrual blood. Though it is expensive, it requires very little water to clean and is a really good option.
3. The Aakar Foundation came up with Anandi Pads, which are biodegradable sanitary napkins. The use of sterilised, disposable sanitary napkins cuts down the probability of illnesses and infections.
4. Sakura Magic sanitary napkins are India’s first eco-friendly menstrual products developed by HOPE Foundation, Chennai.
5. Saathi Pads are India’s leading manufacturers of 100% biodegradable new-age sanitary napkins. They are made with plant-based materials, like banana fibres, instead of plastic. After their disposal, they degrade within six months!
7. Ashudhinashak is an incinerator to destroy used sanitary napkins. It is made up of natural materials (clay, terracotta). This incinerator is small in size and very easy to use. It restricts the smoke generated in the process of incineration to a specific chamber and prevents it from entering the atmosphere.
8. Two engineering students from Coimbatore have designed sanitary napkins from Kenaf fibre, which is primarily extracted from a plant. It is completely degradable and eco-friendly.
India is steadying itself towards these developments – and for this, we need the equal participation of both men and women. Unawareness concerning menstrual hygiene has hampered the growth of women in India. It is high time we realise the enormity of the situation and make substantial efforts to get out of the crisis.
It is imperative that we start taking initiatives to curb the menace of untreated menstrual wastes. Many have been doing great work in this field. Let us also give our contributions to realising the dream of a clean India.