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Is Green Menstruation Even Possible In Our Country?

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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.

Is Sanitary Waste A Burden On The Environment?

We use sanitary pads every month, and while disposing of it, we never give a second thought about what happens to the waste that we are generating. According to the National Family Health Survey report 205-2016, out of 336 million women menstruating in India, roughly 36% (121 million) are using sanitary pads.

If the number of pads used in one cycle is eight, around 12.3 billion sanitary pads are being generated every year. It takes nearly 500-800 years for one sanitary pad to decompose as the sanitary pad’s plastic is non-biodegradable. The ecological footprint of the refuse burden is high. The problem arises when the waste is not segregated properly.

The SWM Rules 2016 categorizes menstrual waste under dry waste. The menstrual waste should be categorized under biomedical waste as it cannot be disposed of with our routine waste. A study by Menstrual Health Alliance India states that 45% of our sanitary waste products are disposed of with our routine household waste.

Therefore the first step towards the correct method of disposal starts with proper segregation of the waste. Due to improper disposal methods, children prefer not to go to school. In rural areas, improper disposal methods lead to menstrual waste to bury in the middle of the fields, burn it or worse, throw it in the rivers or canals.

What Can We Do?

A step by SwaCH, Pune to segregate waste was to put a red dot on the cover of the menstrual waste so that the people segregating the waste manually can safely segregate it without contracting infections. After the waste is segregated, the waste labelled as ‘biomedical waste’ has to be burnt at a higher temperature (incineration process) so that the harmful pollutants like dioxins do not leach into the environment.

sanitary pads are made of plastic which create plastic wate

This is the reason why sanitary pads should not end up in the landfills, as they may leach into the ground, contaminating the soil as well as the aquifers below. Burning the menstrual products will also have environmental hazards, but as of now, there is no study conducted to study the effect of the gases released through the incineration process.

An article by NDTV states different examples of young girls who took the matter into their hands by taking up the responsibility to dispose of the menstrual waste safely. In a small village of Papna Mau, near Lucknow, the residents have a locally built low-cost incinerator- an earthen pot lined with dried leaves. The menstruating individuals dispose of the sanitary waste into the pot and burn it with the help of some oil.

The ashes formed after the process are disposed off. Though this is a step towards preventing sanitary materials from ending up in landfills, this solution is not viable at the larger scale because of problems like air, water or soil pollution from the released gases and ashes.

Another example set is by Soumya Dabriwal and Nitisha Sethia with their Project Baala. They provide environment-friendly reusable sanitary pads which are made of cotton to rural areas.

Can There Be Any Alternatives?

The menstrual products that are used have a plastic layer that takes many years to degrade. Jaydeep Mandal‘s argument, a sustainable menstrual hygiene expert, states that- menstrual products should be ‘compostable’ rather than biodegradable.

Many users have been switching back to the age-old cotton pads as they are user friendly, made of compostable material that is cotton. Cotton pads, when used hygienically, pose no harm to the user’s body.

Another product that is used is the menstrual cup. The cup is made from silicone material which will also take around 500 years to degrade. The difference between plastic and silicon is that plastic will break down into smaller microplastics that are detrimental to the environment whereas silicon doesn’t break down much and after it degrades it does not form any harmful products in the environment.

The edge of using a cup is that it can be used for up to 4 or 5 years. This will have a lesser ecological footprint. Another product is period panties which are also made out of cotton and a better option than the regular sanitary pads.

Way Forward

As the awareness generation activities on using a menstrual pad have been done widely over the years, it will be difficult for people to become aware of new and better alternatives to sanitary pads.

It would also take time for people to accept the usage of products like cloth -which have been stopped using for all the wrong reasons, menstrual cup- because it has to be inserted into the vagina and period panties- fear of leakage and rashes.

Until people become aware and use these alternatives, authorities must pave ways to find methods of proper segregation, collection, transportation and disposal of the sanitary waste produced in large quantities every day.

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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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