The movie Padman got us all thinking about the stigma associated with something as natural as menstruation. While it shattered many a myth and opened doors to less cringe-worthy discussions about the well-known yet elusive 'period', there is another big problem that stares us in the eye - the need for sustainable menstruation. Yes, while hygienic and economical products of menstruation are the need of the hour, one also needs to look at the impact sanitary napkins have on the environment.
For instance, did you know that it takes 800 years for a soiled sanitary pad to break down? That while burning them releases harmful dioxins and furans, burying them is no good either because the pads are non-biodegradable? So what's the solution you may ask? Switching to eco-friendly menstrual products like cloth napkins and menstrual cups, say the many waste warriors of the country.
What a waste!
While it was heartening to see the government launch biodegradable sanitary pads 'Suvidha' (priced at Rs 2.50 each) on International Women's Day, India is still reeling under a huge garbage crisis, believes Dr Meenakshi Bharath, gynaecologist, fertility specialist, environmentalist and one of the foremost campaigners of 'Green The Red' campaign. "I have always wanted to reduce the amount of garbage that is being produced on a daily basis. Disposable sanitary napkins also fall into this category," she says.
Sustainable menstrual products are not only comfortable but also reasonable and produce little or no garbage, she informs. "For a period of two years, a woman needs only five cloth pads as opposed to over 300-plus disposable sanitary napkins." She further adds, "Women menstruate for an average of 40 years, which is equivalent to about 420 periods. During each period, we use approximately 15 pads, which means around 7,000 sanitary napkins in a lifetime. And this can cost us Rs 50,000 to a lakh!"
It was alarming statistics like these that made Anju Bist work towards producing eco-friendly cloth pads called 'Saukhyam Pads'. This pad is made from banana fibre, dries fast, absorbs much more; and is comfortable and easy to wash. A user of cloth pads herself for the last 18 years, Anju recalls the time when she got her first set of three cloth pads for a whopping $50! "In the olden days, women would use cloth and find it highly inconvenient. But a modern-day cloth pad is different from a piece of cloth. It is economical, doesn't stain and is as easy to wash as a handkerchief."
Dr Meenakshi agrees as she points out to the other myths associated with sustainable menstrual products. "Women are afraid to insert the menstrual cup into the vagina. But it's only a small learning curve for about one or two periods. The cost is also minimal - just Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 over 10 years and no garbage at all. Also be it monsoon or summer, one can use the cup in any season without any difficulty. You can even swim, work on a farm, run a marathon or play any sport with comfort."
For Srujana K, a Bengaluru-based photography enthusiast, foodie, and homemaker, switching to a menstrual cup was the best decision she made in her life. "While watching Padman, I started thinking about how much non-biodegradable waste we women are actually producing." She then decided to read more on sustainable menstrual products. "I went through a lot of blogs and decided to order both - a menstrual cup and cloth pads. Initially, I was not very comfortable with the cup, but later I learned that I had to relax my pelvic muscles and squat before using it and taking it out." Now, Srujana swears by the comfort of the cup.
While the timing is just right for sustainable menstruation believes Anju, more and more women can make the switch only when they talk to each other about it, says Dr Meenakshi. "The youth is ready for it. One just has to convince them and give them a chance," explains Anju while Dr Meenakshi adds, "Women need to speak to each other to spread the message of the wonderful comfort that the cloth pads and menstrual cups provide. For a rash-free, trash-free and cash-free period, switch to sustainable menstrual products today."
1. It takes 800 years for a sanitary pad to break down.
2. A woman uses 4,200 to 6,000 disposable sanitary pads in her lifetime.
3. A sanitary napkin has toxic chemicals like styrene (used in car tyres), acetone (used in nail polish removers), chloromethane (used in petroleum refining) and chloroethane (used in Styrofoam).
4. It cannot be recycled or reused. It is dumped in the landfill and poses serious environmental and health effects. If burnt, it produces dioxins and furans
5. Bengaluru produces 90,000 kgs of sanitary waste every day! It's often not disposed of safely.
6. Sanitary waste is picked up from your doorstep by housekeeping staff, Paurakarmikas and waste-pickers thereby exposing them to health hazards.
7. In the sewage, the super-absorbent gel in pads makes the napkins bloat and clog the drains. Cleaners have to get into these drains, which can prove to be life-threatening.
8. While the money spent on sanitary napkins in 10 years is Rs 12,000 to 45,000, cloth napkins cost one about Rs 5,000 to 8,000. A menstrual cup costs about Rs 1,000 and can be used for 10 years.
(Courtesy: Dr Meenakshi Bharath and www.greenthred.in)