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Are you Irresponsibly Dumping Sanitary Pads At The Cost of Human Dignity And Health?

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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.

Urban Transformations: In Pune, India, Waste Pickers Go from Trash to Treasure | TheCityFix
Representational image only.

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.

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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 –

  1. Switch to eco-friendly pads – Ever heard of reusable sanitary napkins? These are made from 3-4 layers of cloth stitched together. It involves zero plastic. It can be washed and reused for a period of 1.5-3 years. This is an advanced and hygienic version of cloth pads.
  2. Switch to menstrual cups – Menstrual cups are made of silicon that can be inserted into the vagina during menstruation. It simply collects the blood. Unlike regular pads, menstrual cups are reusable and can last up to 5-10 years. These are way more hygienic and eco-friendlier than sanitary napkins.
  3. Raise your Voice – Raise your voice against the subtle practice of manual scavenging in India. Demand MHM, menstrual waste management and dignity of sanitary workers.

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

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  1. Ravindra Kumawat

    Hey Lubna, you are absolutely right. Thank you so much for keeping this thing in front of us because once we discuss about the problems then only we can reach to a solution. You have mentioned different solutions for this. I try to implement these. Once again Thank you so much.

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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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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.

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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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