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Sustainable Menstrual Practices: Need Of The Hour

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

By Sakshi Saxena

In India, menstrual concerns are still expected to be a hush affair. Even after being a mounting problem in our country, waste generated from it is the farthest thing from our minds.

With the evolution of cloth pads into sanitary napkins, majority of the females have been using sanitary pads because that is the only product introduced to them. This is one major reason why people still aren't aware of the other existing alternatives, even though they have been around for a long time now. Providing women with disposable pads is not furthering the development, in any way.

There have been health professionals and NGOs who have pointed out the presence of chemicals in sanitary napkins which are potentially harmful for women. Even if less than 40% of the total menstruating females in India use pads, every woman has the right to know what goes in its making.

Furthermore, no research has been conducted to attest the quality standards of pads and tampons that are sold in the Indian market. According to a report in The Times of India, the standards that were put in place by the Bureau of Indian standards have not been updated since 1980. The toxicity of ingredients used in the sanitary products has no mention in the list.

Sanitary pads are misconceived by the majority to be made out of cotton. But in reality they contain cellulose gel and are made out of rayon and synthetic fiber which contain dioxin released after bleaching the material. There are other innumerable chemicals used in the making of pads which can be absorbed through the skin, easily. The vaginal tissues are different from the rest of the body and are highly delicate. And since pad users essentially wear them for 7 years periodically throughout their menstruating lifetime, this can potentially permeate the risks like Reproductive Tract Infections, Sexually Transmitted Infections and even cervical cancer.

While the chemicals raise red flags for the health, its disposal raises concerns for the earth.

The recycling of disposable tampons and pads is difficult and rarely done due to cost reasons. Any product that is made using industrially manufactured plastic takes roughly 1,000 years to decompose in landfills. On an average, a woman will throw away more than 7,000-8,000 pads in her lifetime. However insane this may sound, it is true.

According to the data provided by Menstrual Health Alliance India, 45% of the menstrual waste in the country is disposed of as routine waste along with other garbage. While some women wrap it in plastic or paper and throw it along with domestic garbage, some flush them down the toilet or throw them into the water bodies. The lack of concern for sanitary waste management in our country is reflected in the fact that there are no reliable statistics available on the subject. "Due to the lack of segregation of waste in India, there is hardly any documentation on this," says Bindu Mohanty, co-founder, earth&us, Auroville.

After the products have been used and thrown, they are collected as household waste by garbage collector and segregated by hand picking. This practice is not only a concern for the management but it also exposes the workers to various health problems. It contributes to garbage piling up in the cities, clogging the drains, polluting our environment and ruining the health of fellow citizens who do the kind of inhuman work no one should have to do.

Kindness towards self and nature is the need of the hour. In terms of menstruation, it’s high time we start talking about the other existing alternatives and bring them in use.

(1). Menstrual cups:

Menstrual cups are small in size and are made of medical grade silicone that is inert (doesn't react with the body). Depending on the flow, a woman removes the cup every 6-12 hours, empties the blood in the toilet, washes the cup and reinserts it into her vagina. A cup can be easily re-used upto 10 years.

But in a country like India, where people are squeamish about virginity, females are daunted by the prospect of putting something inside their vagina. But for healthy and sustainable life, facts should be weighed over myths.

(2). Cloth pads:

Yes, the traditionally used pads have now been transformed into a more feasible alternative.

Cloth pads can be changed as often as one would change a disposable pad. In this respect, both are similar. The only difference is that after you finish with a cloth pad, you toss it in the wash and re-use it. It is more absorbent, do not require frequent changing and are softer on the skin. Also, as they are made from fabric instead of plastics, they offer dual benefits. First, they allow better airflow, which can help prevent thrush and rashes. Second, they are eco-friendly.

(3). Inter-Labia Pads:

They are great in conjunction with cloth pads as they help to control the direction of heavy flow and save you from changing the pad frequently.

(4). Period Panties:

They can be used alone or in conjunction with menstrual cups. Period panties come with insets that can be changed and are leak-proof.

Not only have these alternatives stood out to be more environment friendly, but also healthy and comfortable. And they are wallet friendly, too.

Speaking of the costs, on an average, disposable sanitary pads set a user back by Rs. 165 per month, roughly Rs. 2,000 each year and Rs. 40,000- Rs. 60,000 throughout their menstrual life. The reusable nature of the above alternatives makes them way cheaper than disposable pads.

To make a sustainable and healthier lifestyle, such alternatives must be incorporated as part and parcel of a woman’s daily life. Hence, getting rid of the disposable sanitary napkins is the least a person can do to be a responsible citizen!

Let’s take a step forward in sustaining everybody's future!

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