Sarru Waghmare, a waste collector at Swach said, “I have been diagnosed with bacterial infections multiple times. It still shocks me when I and my co-workers segregate menstrual waste by hand and deal with unbearable smell and insects every day”.
Ever wondered what happens to your sanitary waste after you dump it in the dustbin? Well, the sanitary workers segregate those using their hands. Usually, covered sanitary pads are mixed with the liquids in the garbage, which tears the cover. Rain makes the matter worse.
Uncovered sanitary pads cause bacteria to multiply. It exposes them to multiple deadly pathogens including staphylococcus, hepatitis, E Coli and salmonella.
Post segregation, the sanitary waste is driven out of the city and settled in a landfill. As it is non-biodegradable waste, it ends up staying in landfills for 500-800 years. This results in overflowing landfills, causing permanent harm to the environment. We compromise a lot of land resources, converting them into landfills.
Khushboo, a resident of Trilokpuri says “ Ghazipur landfill is just a stone throw from my house. It smells so bad. In 2017, it slipped and 3 people lost their lives”. Imagine how much of the landfill is only used sanitary pads!
In India, 353 million menstruating women generate 1,230 crore soiled pads which result in 44,125 million kilograms of menstruating waste every year.
Of this, 28% is thrown along with other domestic waste, 26% is dumped in the open, 23% gets buried, 15% is burnt in the open, and 8% is thrown in toilets. This jeopardizes the environment and the health of sanitary workers.
Throwing used sanitary pads in open spaces and burning them in the open harms the environment. Burying commercial sanitary pads adds to the misery as it is not biodegradable. It pollutes the soil. Flushing chokes the sewer.
My friend Laiba plants trees every 6 months. She shared, “Each time I dig up to put my sapling, I find plastic inside the soil. Once I found a used pad as well. People dispose of pads without releasing the after effects!”
The sanitary pads especially the one with “odour lock gel” get stuck into the sewer and don’t get cleared with the machine. Unfortunately, it has to be a human hand that goes inside the sewer to remove it. Exposing them to multiple health issues and resulting in lost dignity.
Segregation of sanitary waste using hands is a form of manual scavenging. It is a cause of worry. The right to live with dignity is everyone’s right. Do not wait for the government or sanitary product manufacturers to offer better solutions, take matters into your hands. Here is what you can do to cut down menstrual waste –
The Red dot campaign by SWaCH (Solid Waste Collection and Handling Cooperative Society), in Pune, is a step towards providing dignity to sanitary workers. Women put a red dot on their sanitary waste which pardons the workers to segregate it without opening it.
As per Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate, it is mandatory for manufacturers to provide a recyclable pouch or wrapper for proper disposal of menstrual waste whenever they sell their products.
As per MHM guidelines issued by the Ministry of Drinking Waste and Sanitation 2015, sanitary pads are to be dumped after covering it with a newspaper or pouch.
The best way of treating sanitary waste is burying them deep if they are biodegradable sanitary pads or burning them in incinerators. Though there is a lot that has to be done, a start has to be made. We must start segregating our menstrual waste.
There are many who feel disgusted with their own period blood. Imagine the plight of those who touch your used sanitary pads! Be a sensitive human and make the switch.
The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program