A way to tackle the menace of sanitary pads waste.
Pad man, Period- End of sentence, Phullu – These movies have brought the issue of menstruation and sanitary napkins in to the limelight, which otherwise is a taboo subject!! Nothing has been commercialised as much as these napkins and hyped-up as much as menstruation, which is a natural phenomenon. The Indian sanitary napkin market has a value of US$499.8 million as of 2019.The idea of the sanitary pad is to help the women during her periods, provide her good health and dignity. This simple intention has been curved to make a profit in the name of disposable pads. Branded as convenient, lifestyle product for modern women, these disposable pads, in reality, has opened a pandora’s box, impacting women health, economy and environment. In 2016, 1,50,000 tons of sanitary pads waste were generated in India and due to lack of proper sanitary disposal method, these pad waste often end up in rivers, oceans or as landfills affecting our fragile habitat & ecosystem. Is there a solution to this menace? Yes, it’s Eco -friendly pads: Cloth pads, biodegradable pads. They are environment friendly and makes menstrual hygiene management sustainable.
ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS: Conventional pads are 90% plastic and they have plastic wings, adhesives, super absorbent(plastic) polymer gels. Thus, each pad is equivalent to four plastic bags with each containing 3.4gm of plastic. This means that over a lifetime the average woman will dispose 60 kg of plastic from sanitary pads alone. And plastic takes 500-800 years to degrade. Thus, these disposable pads end up as landfills or in oceans affecting our environment, as they cause pollution. They degrade into microplastics seeping into our ecosystem and finally in our food chains. To address the sanitary waste, the government has promoted the use of incinerators leading to mushrooming of social entrepreneurs and corporations promoting the use of incinerators for schools, public spaces or home usage. However, small scale incinerators often operate at temperatures below 800 degree Celsius. This may lead to the production of furans, dioxins (carcinogenic) and mixing in the atmosphere.
On the other hand, Eco- friendly pads are made of plant fibre (banana, bamboo), degradable cotton and cotton clothes. These products fall into “cradle to cradle biological cycle” process, which means that all of the material of the product will naturally biodegrade and return to the earth. Cloth pads and menstrual cups are reusable for some years, thus reducing the burden of sanitary waste.
ECONOMIC ASPECT: Switching to cloth and biodegradable pads are good for the economy, as the raw material for making them is sourced from local farmers providing them income and social benefits. Saathi biodegradable pads use banana fibre as their raw material. Banana fibre comes from the stem of the banana tree, which after harvesting is normally discarded. Now there is a use for this fibre and farmers can earn extra income. The residue left over can be fermented and used by the farmers as organic manure thereby paving way for mutual benefit.
Using these pads promotes circular economy. A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. The aim is to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals and waste through the superior design of materials, products, system and business model. Cloth pads add to the power of circling longer, which refers to the maximum number of times a product can be reused, as each reuse cycle avoids the material, energy and use of resources to create a new product.
A feather in the cap aspect of using cloth pads is the monetary savings for women. An average woman menstruates for about 30 years. A full cycle cloth pad kit that can last about 3 years costs about 1500/INR. The disposable pad is 165/INR each month, roughly 2000/INR each year and for 30 years disposable pads cost 60,000/INR whereas cloth pad costs 13,500/INR for 30 years.
One in three women misses almost a month of work each year because of lack of access to reliable sanitary pads, as commercial pads are inaccessible for rural poor women. Lack of sanitary pads to poor adolescent girls cause school absenteeism during menstruation. Buying these pads can empower the rural & poor girls and women as through each purchase we contribute funds to initiatives like “pad for pad”, “pad for sisters” of Ecofemme and “one million pads program” of Saathi. These programs provide pads at a subsidized price to these marginal groups, helping them to overcome the hindrance of menstruation. Padman, Arunachalam Muruganantham’s invention not only helps rural women in reaching to sanitary pads (biodegradable & chemical-free) but also provides livelihood to them
EFFICIENCY: Covid-19 pandemic has affected everything in this world including the sanitary pads. Government schools are a critical part of the supply chain for pads to rural adolescent girls. The sudden lockdown caused sanitary pad crisis. Cloth pads came handy and many NGO’s were teaching women to make cloth pad at home. Thus, these reusable cloth pads proved effective in times of crisis.
Period poverty is a global issue affecting women and young girls who do not have access to safe, hygienic, affordable sanitary products. Period poverty is widespread in India. Only 36% of menstruating women in India have exposure to proper period products. While rest are driven to use materials like rags, husks, dried leaves and other unhygienic practices that affect their reproductive organ and overall health. Training women and girls to make safe, reusable sanitary pads will help them to overcome this situation and manage their periods with dignity.
Disposable pads contain chemicals of concern like chloroform, paraben, dioxins, phthalate, styrene, all hazardous to health and have the potential to cause health hazards like cancer, reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, allergic rashes. Cloth pads and biodegradable pads are free of harmful chemicals and are efficacious. Disposable pads, because of plastic polymers and super-absorbent gel, when flushed down the toilet bloat and clog up the sewers. In this case, sanitation workers have to go down the drains and remove them by hand thus endangering their lives and lowering their dignity. This is a gross violation of human rights and as educated, sensible women it is our responsibility to handle our periods and the products effectively.
A Well informed and conscious decision is the need of the hour. Switching to eco- friendly pads can be a small step but this lifestyle change can have a positive ripple effect on women health, environment, economy. Every year 12 billion pads are disposed off, creating a mountain of sanitary pad waste and this number likely to increase in the future!!! Making a move towards sustainable choice and spreading the awareness will tackle the menace of disposable pads and stigma around menstruation. Promoting Eco-friendly pads, will aid Swachh Bharat initiative also. We are living in a smart world, planning for smart cities.
Menstruation is not taboo; it is not for commercialisation. It is just a biological process.
Sumalatha K C is a first year MA(DLB) student at JSIA.