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Why Biodegradable Sanitary Pads Seem To Be A Scam

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

Having finally made it to the mainstream conversation in the last three years, the way we look at ‘periods’ in India is changing. Laws, policies, approaches and period products are constantly upgrading to suit and serve menstruators better in some instances. Observing the general shift to green period products that are reusable, disposable products are innovating. Last year saw the launch of multiple sanitary napkin brands that have christened themselves as ‘eco-friendly, bio-degradable and better for the body’. Let’s try to understand this.

sanitary pads in the market
For representation only

Most of these ‘biodegradable’ pads claim to be chemical-free and compostable. They are wanting in disclosure of all the materials used and the composting procedure and time-frame. In absence of these answers, these pads could potentially be categorised as a lifestyle product. Unless they are compostable at home, the pads are more for convenience than for the environment.

Biodegradable Pads- Are We Composting Them In Our Homes?

The biggest benefit of anything biodegradable is that we can compost it in our backyard, otherwise, it has to be sent to landfills (involving waste management workers, systems and elaborate processes). In case of biodegradable sanitary pads, it would be difficult for a house of 3 menstruators to compost blood-soaked 48 pads (approximately 3 x 16 pads per month) in their compost at home. This would be mixed with kitchen and other wet waste and will need looking after, not to mention the enormous amounts of space it will require for 6 months with the other pads that we will keep adding to it: 450+ pads at a point in time!

Immediate questions that need answers:

  1. Do we have the infrastructure (space, monetary investment, time, resources) to do this? Is there an industrial composting facility in place that accepts these biodegradable compostable pads?
  2. How comfortable are we mixing (un) sanitary waste with wet waste that will turn manure for our gardens? Is there research proving this is a completely safe method to practice?

Handling Waste

Ghazipur landfill. Image Credit: HT

If we are not composting them at home, then these products go through the same process of treatment: either burners/incinerators (which are below WHO standards in India) or most often, end up in landfills after being segregated by waste pickers. They continue to potentially be a biomedical hazard and contribute to an already burdened system of undignified scavenging apart from adding to the pollution of water bodies (when disposed carelessly) and space-occupying landfills where they will lie for the next few years.

Are Biodegradable Pads Healthier For Our Bodies?

Some pads have the same gel substance, as the regular plastic-heavy, disposable pads. The super absorbent/adsorption gel is supposed to hold 30 times liquid of its own weight. This causes dry skin, irritation, and rashes. If our compostable, organic-tagged pads have these with bleached white cotton, then how is it better than disposable napkins?

Are these pads biodegradable and good for the environment?

That really is a million-dollar question. We tried composting three brands of compostable pads and the results are discussed here. But before that, let’s understand why any kind of disposables is harmful to the environment. Apart from the obvious waste generation and treatment, one should also look at the carbon emissions going to producing a product and its active lifespan.
In the case of a disposable napkin (compostable or not), the active life span is 6 hours, which is minuscule considering the number of hours (and not to forget carbon emissions) that went into producing & decaying one single napkin.

Multiply that by as many that one will use in a lifetime. Even if it were compostable, that’s high carbon emission attached to these products. On the contrary, when we use a reusable product, we are able to maximise the value of the emissions by using the single product for a long time given its long active lifespan. We create less waste, generate less CO2 and spend less money on such products as in the case of menstrual cups, cloth pads or period panties.

A woman looking at sanitary pads
For representation only

Rajasi Kulkarni Diwakar, a volunteer at Green The Red in Mumbai, composted pads (used and unused, after 2 and 6 months in compost) of brands that make eco-friendly pads and the results are detailed below. The user experience of pads has also been shared by Mayuri B from Assam.
Saathi pads: These pads, claimed to be made of banana fiber, were comfortable to wear and didn’t look bleached. However, they had lumps that might cause inconvenience to some. Two pads of Saathi were composted, one with blood and one sans blood. The one with blood disintegrated and composted in 7.5 months and the one without blood took about 5.5 months in high room temperature.
Carmesi pads: This pad looked bleached white and caused dryness. When a used Carmesi pad was composted, it didn’t start disintegrating at 6+ months. It had a plastic layer that didn’t shred. It was eventually taken out of the compost. (Contents: Corn starch, Bamboo fiber, and corn-based bio-plastic).

Heyday pads: These are made of bamboo and corn fiber and feel super soft. They look bleached white. An unused Heyday pad had broken 50% in the compost at 4 months. It had to be discontinued after, for volunteer’s personal reasons.

Asmita Yogna: A used pad from this scheme had partially composted at 4 months. The bottom leak proof layer did not degrade.

Green The Red also reached out to various brands such as Heyday, Saathi, Carmesi and Anandi pads with questions and received a response from only one of them. Anandi pad is another biodegradable pad that we could not compost but got feedback from the manufacture instead (Aakar Innovations). The conversation is quoted verbatim below.

GreenTheRed: Your brand of pads is advertised as eco-friendly and biodegradable. Can you share the contents in this product?

Aakar: Our pads contents are all 100% Compostable & Anandi Eco+ are the only Government of India certified 100% Compostable Sanitary Pads producer in India. We have filed patents so can’t disclose the details of materials but it comes from starch & similar sources. Biodegradable is a misleading term & in a way all available pads are biodegradable. Anything which degrades naturally & becomes CO2, water & organic matters can be called as biodegradable but it may happen in few days or 500 years-it doesn’t have any time limits- it doesn’t even have proper standards, whereas compostable means it happens within 180 days in composting conditions and becomes manure & it has US, EU & Indian standards.

G: Can you tell us the duration it (a used napkin) takes to fully decompose?
A: In composting condition, it takes 90-180 days to fully decompose.
(Please note that ‘Composting conditions’ might require intervention or creation of the same by adding components or creating an environment with the right temperature and pressure, On another platform, Jaydeep from Aakar has mentioned that the Aakar pads can compost in vermicomposting at industry scale.)

G: Have you carried out any first-hand studies where the pad has been composted or buried?
A: Yes we have done it.

G: How do you recommend the consumer to dispose of the used pad of your brand?
A: It can be disposed in composting pit, or buried where it may take a little longer to decompose.

G: Do you have any mechanism in place to treat the solid waste generated by the product after use?
A: Anandi pads are fully compostable so it becomes manure & part of the soil. No special treatment is required apart from putting it in composting pit.

G: Why don’t the pads break down in home compost?
A: For composting pads, we need composting conditions else the timeline will vary from case-to-case and used pads are ideal for composting than unused pads. PFA, the recommended materials & method for home or society based composting. We recommend for urban consumers they can compost pads in their society where it’s possible to create a composting pit, else they can try our method too which we have tested in our lab, in landfill also our pads will be composted but the timeline will be mostly longer as it will be mixed with other plastic waste.

Image For Representation Only

In conclusion, we recommend that users be aware of what they are buying (a compostable pad that you are unlikely to compost at home) and also, what they are buying into (convenience that comes at a cost and is no different than our former lifestyle product), and most pertinently demand for our right as a consumer to know what we are using. These products may have better feel in texture, convenience or may have fewer chemicals but it remains questionable if they really are as eco-friendly as we imagined them to be.

These products have a significantly higher carbon footprint than reusable cloth or menstrual cups that last for multiple uses and for many years with proper care.

This article was originally published at and is produced here with authors’ consent
Composting experiment volunteers: Rajasi Kulkarni, Kavya Menon, Vijayalaxmi Hegde, and Mayuri B.
Fact-checked by: Shilpi Sahu & Bharti Kanan
Compiled by: Sonal Jain
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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