By – Aarushi Gupta, Humjoli Volunteer & Menstrual Activist.
India has an approximate population of 336 million women menstruators. Among the women that do have access to menstrual products, the majority of them have consistently opted for disposable sanitary pads, largely because of easy availability in stores and affordable pricing.
Due to the sizable use of sanitary pads, the waste they generate is massive as well.
In India, around 113,000 tons of sanitary pads are dumped every year in landfills.
What’s in your pad?
You will be surprised to know that a regular disposal sanitary pad is actually 90% plastic!
One disposable sanitary pad contains the plastic equivalent to 3 plastic bags and takes anywhere between 250-800 years to decompose.
Disposable plastic pads often carry a chemical material in them called SAP that soaks in wet liquids and locks them there. Such chemicals can cause cancer, which is something most menstruators are not aware of!
Why disposal is an issue?
Due to lack of sanitary pad dustbins (and unawareness of proper way of disposal) at home or spaces like schools, most menstruators try to flush them down the toilet which clogs the sewages and pipelines as the pad does not disintegrate.
The amount of menstrual waste generated in India that is not biodegradable poses not only an environmental risk but also several other health hazards as well.
If used plastic pads that have SAP are left unattended in landfills for a long time, then they can become potential breeding grounds for dangerous pathogens and diseases.
Sanitation workers are at risk of contracting diseases like Hepatitis, as they often cannot tell menstrual waste apart from normal wet waste and most waste does not come to them segregated either.
A possible solution to the problem
So, what is a possible solution to this menstrual waste crisis?
One much talked about solution to this is to classify menstrual waste as biomedical waste and burn it in biomedical incinerators. However, not only would this require collection, segregation, and transportation of used pads on a large scale, but also that no such mechanism exists at the moment and we are not yet aware of the environmental risks of using biomedical incinerators on a large scale. Such incinerators are very costly to install as well and improper burning of used pads in low-cost incinerators where the proper procedure is not followed can result in the release of toxins like furan and dioxins, which causes more environmental and health damage.
What YOU can do?
Actually, a lot!
So, what can possibly be the role of menstruators like us in doing our bit to reduce menstrual waste?
One place to start is that we can all ensure that we wrap our pads in newspaper or cloth and label it as menstrual waste and segregate it in our houses. Several organizations and individuals are making their own paper packets so that menstruators can put their used pads in these packets for disposal and sanitation workers can recognize the contents of the packet immediately and segregate them accordingly.
There are also organic sanitary pads available in the market, made entirely out of banana fiber and other natural fiber and starch, which will decompose by itself ranging from months to a few years.
It’s important to not just have a safe menstrual cycle but to have an environmentally friendly and conscious one as well.
About the writer – Aarushi Gupta has done her BS in International Relations from Ritsumeikan University, Japan. She is associated with several NGOs and is working passionaltely to eradicate period poverty.