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Eco Alternatives For Sustainable Menstruation

Introduction

Sustainable menstruation refers to practices where environment-friendly alternatives to menstrual products are used, which do not produce waste.

About Sustainable Menstruation 

Sustainable menstruation advocates promote the use of reusable products like menstrual cloth pads, menstrual cups, biodegradable sanitary pads, period panties and other such products to reduce the waste created by non-biodegradable materials. Sustainable menstruation is an active process of reducing the carbon footprint which is predominantly caused on account of non-biodegradable menstrual products.

Why Change?

In developing countries such as India, concerns are surrounding manual scavenging, where waste picking and segregation is done by hand, by people. A sustainable approach to menstruation attempts to tackle the issue of human rights and dignity of manual scavengers. There is some concern that by focusing on menstruation as a focus in discussions in waste, it further stigmatizes menstruation by blaming women for problems they didn’t create. In India, 6% of non-biodegradable waste is created by hygiene products including menstruation products, wipes and diapers.

Damages the Environment Adversely

The environmental impact caused by sanitary waste is one of the significant topics in discussions today. A plastic, industrially manufactured, disposable sanitary pad requires about 500–800 years to decompose. Thousands of tons of disposable sanitary waste is generated every month all over the world.

Serious and Deadly Health Conditions Using Pads and Tampons

Due to our packed schedules and on the move lifestyle, there are times wherein we don’t have the time to change our pads or tampons and this can lead to a rare but serious infection called Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).

Eco Alternatives

For people who have periods, deciding what products to use during menstruation is a big decision. Many people will pick up what’s readily available at the local drugstore, which tends to be standard tampons or sanitary pads. Unfortunately, these things aren’t great for the environment. But, not to worry, we’ve got you.

1. Reusable Menstrual Cups

menstrual cup

What exactly is a menstrual cup? They’re an alternative to tampons that catches your flow while the cup is inserted. Unlike a tampon or a pad, it’s not absorbent. Throughout the day, you empty your cup, clean it properly, and reinsert it.

Advantages:

  • Menstrual cups can cut down on a lot of waste, they require to be cleaned thoroughly with water and they’re good to go.
  • Cups can hold more blood than other methods, leading many women to use them as an eco-friendly alternative to tampons. And depending on your flow, you can wear a cup for up to 12 hours.
  • It’s much more affordable as compared to prices of pads or tampons.
  • It’s a one-time investment, the estimate of the lifeline of a menstrual cup is 1 year which beats the cost of having to buy pads/tampons now and then.

If you’re not a fan of using an insertion product, period “panties” might be the perfect fit. Essentially, these are pairs of absorbent underwear that catch your flow, no other products needed. They’re more expensive than a standard pair of underwear, and depending on your flow, you’ll likely need several pairs per cycle, to make time for washing and drying. 

Disadvantages:

  • Getting used to the insertion of the cup.
  • Familiarising yourself with the kind and size of the cup for you depending on your flow.
  • Messy.
  • May cause irritation.

2. Period Underwear

period panties

If you’re not a fan of using an insertion product, period “panties” might be the perfect fit. Essentially, these are pairs of absorbent underwear that catch your flow, no other products needed. They’re more expensive than a standard pair of underwear, and depending on your flow, you’ll likely need several pairs per cycle, to make time for washing and drying. 

Advantages:

  • Comfortable.
  • Easy to use.
  • Fights odours.
  • Disposable.

Disadvantages:

  • Washing off the flow.
  • Limited styles.
  • Changing in public.
  • Quite expensive.

3. Reusable Pads

cloth sanitary pad

Most of us are familiar with disposable sanitary pads, as they’re often available in drugstores, supermarkets, etc. However, reusable pads are an eco-friendly alternative to all of that waste. How do they work? Cloth pads are most similar to sanitary pads, in that you put them in your underwear and they absorb your flow.

Advantages:

  • Good for your body since they’re free of plastic, adhesives, fragrances and chemical gels.
  • Light on your pocket.
  • Comfortable.
  • Made especially for your flow.
  • Variety of colours and patterns.

 Disadvantages:

  • It takes time to wash and dry the pads compared to throwing away disposables.
  • Cloth pads can stain.
  • You have to bring your cloth pads home with you if you change them while out.

4. Menstrual Disc

menstrual disc

Similar to the reusable menstrual cups, Softdiscs, sometimes known as “soft cups”, is inserted into the vagina and are meant to collect your flow without absorbing it. Soft discs may be an excellent alternative for people who are uneasy with the maintenance and hygiene required of reusing a menstrual cup, or who want to test how a cup feels before taking the plunge.

Advantages:

  • Easy to insert and remove, once you have practice.
  • Since a disc isn’t inside the vaginal canal, it’s very comfortable and you hardly feel it when inserted in the correct position.
  • It can be worn up to 12 hours and holds four tampons worth of fluid.
  • Doesn’t leak.
  • Can be worn during workouts, swimming, sleeping.

Disadvantages:

  • Messy.
  • Hard to change while outdoors.
  • Risk of TSS.

BATTLE OF THE FOUR

Menstrual Cups Period Underwear  Reusable Pads Menstrual Discs
Price
Comfort 
Style
Risk of TSS
Shift

 

Some of my personal favourite sustainable menstrual product brands:

Menstrual Cups

  1. Yoni Cup
  2. Boondh
  3. Freedom Cup
  4. Organi Cup

Period Underwear 

  1. Thinx
  2. Period Aisle
  3. Wuka
  4. Flux Undies

Reusable Pads

  1. Eco Femme
  2. Jaioni
  3. SochGreen
  4. Uger

Menstrual Discs

  1. Flex Fits
  2. Softdisc

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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