Today is World Environment Day. We’ve put together a quick overview of how menstrual hygiene plays a role in impacting the environment, why you should care and how we can bring sustainability in menstruation.
When speaking of menstrual hygiene products, the most significant environmental problem is plastics in sanitary products. Most tampons, pads and panty liners have plastic in them. These products make their way into landfills, oceans and rivers. As plastics are not biodegradable, even one single disposable pad can take between 500-800 years to decompose. For perspective – each menstruator requires about 20 of these every single month! Women get their periods in their early teen years, and this continues till menopause. On average, this is about 40 years of bleeding and requiring sanitary products. So think 20 products multiplied by 12 months = 240 pads a year. Multiply that by 40 years, and that is 9,600 pads per menstruator per lifetime. In India alone, 43.2 crore sanitary napkins are used, and this amount can cover landfills as big as 24 hectares.
The chemicals from the plastic pads contribute to soil infertility and pollution of groundwater. The Solid Waste Management Rules of 2016, say that napkins, tampons and condoms that are soiled and are considered household waste should be disposed of properly after being classified as biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. However, products that contain bodily fluids and blood are biomedical waste and should be dealt with appropriately, i.e. by incineration and similar measures to destroy harmful pathogens.
Menstruation is still considered a taboo, and while global efforts are being made to dismantle these beliefs, there is still a long way to go. Menstrual hygiene practices are affected by beliefs and norms within different cultures and religion. Some of these beliefs may be hindrances to good menstrual hygiene practices. Women face restrictions on cooking, worshipping, bathing, and so much more. Restrictions are imposed on women because of the false perception that menstruation is dirty.
When it comes to disposal, several countries face the same problem of a lack of appropriate methods. Owing to inadequate menstrual management practices, women end up throwing their sanitary pads or other menstrual products into the garbage bin, and it ends up part of solid waste. Indian toilet facilities don’t have bins for the proper disposal of sanitary pads, nor do they have adequate facilities for washing hands – a necessity for menstruating women to handle menstrual hygiene. In rural areas, there are several ways to dispose of menstrual waste like burning, burying, throwing in garbage, or pit latrines. However, many women in rural areas either cannot afford pads or are inclined to using reusable pads and cloth, so they generate a smaller amount of menstrual waste as compared to women in urban areas who lean towards disposable pads. The way these materials were disposed of in urban India depended on the menstrual products used, the cultural beliefs and the location. Women in slum areas thew their waste into pit latrines because both burning and burial were challenging to do with a lack of privacy being an issue. The fear was that men would see them or various superstitions that instilled doubts in these women’s minds.
Girls in schools throw pads in toilets as there are no sanitary facilities. Sometimes, they would end up discarding their used menstrual clothing without washing them. Several girls miss school when menstruating because of no proper disposal system, no locks on toilet doors, no water taps or buckets and limited water supply. In some schools, there were incinerators and bins for menstrual waste, but a fear of being seen by other people prevented girls from utilising them. Disposal behaviours of women differ from when they are in their own homes and when they are away. At home, pads are often disposed by wrapping in newspapers and putting it in the dustbin with other waste. But in public places, unfortunately, many flush them down toilets or leave their used pads tucked away in the corner of a lavatory. Flushing sanitary products can create a blockage in the sewage system, making it extremely difficult for people who have to manage the toilets. Leaving soiled pads around bathrooms too is extremely unhygienic as it attracts flies and mosquitos and makes the lives of cleaners and other people who use the toilet hard.
There is a solution to all these problems, and that is by using eco-friendly menstrual products. There are several alternatives to the disposable sanitary pad like menstrual cups, period panties and reusable sanitary pads. Menstrual cups might be costly but they last a very long time, are easy to wash and also easy to carry around. Period panties and reusable pads are sustainable options, easy to clean (useable even up to 70 washes, in some cases) and economically priced. By switching over to these products, you create zero waste. However, the only way to make an impact is by continuously spreading awareness and educating people on good menstrual hygiene practices, eco-friendly menstrual products, and ways to care for the environment.
Saafkins – A reusable 12-hour period panty, Saafkins are constructed from a self-disinfecting fabric that makes them highly absorbent, hygienic and allows them to be washed numerous times, even with hand soap. Extensive testing in labs accredited with the Government of India has confirmed the benefits of Saafkins. Learn more about Saafkins by Livinguard on saafkins.com