Sanitary napkins are the basic right of every girl and woman. It is essential for self-esteem, to prevent various diseases, help in fulfilling their dreams of academic and professional achievements. But the question of safe disposable of these pads remains as a big environmental issue as well a health concern.
“Easy availability of sanitary pads has empowered women, which is really commendable. But this is at the cost of environment. The material in these pads which has improved over a period of time has benefited in terms of absorption of flowing blood and reduced the messy part associated with it. While this material is difficult to recycle. It can’t get disposed,” said Gautam Kirtane, Environmentalist and senior project head at Mumbai First organisation.
“Sanitary pads have a huge market, but they should also consider the impact of the environmental aspect,” said Kirtane.
Founded six years ago, Mumbai based Aakar Innovation has been manufacturing eco-friendly and bio-degradable sanitary pads. Jaydeep Mandal founder of Aakar Innovation said, “We did a lot of research and studied all the possible aspects of this issue. Apart from the environment impacts it’s also hazardous for people who are actually dealing with this dirt. Rag pickers who lift garbage with their bare hands, the sanitation worker who cleans public toilets, where pads are easily thrown. They regularly encounter this situation and come in contact with the sanitary pads. That’s when we thought there should be option to tackle this”.
“Around 40% of women in urban area use these sanitary pads and in rural area it’s hardly 2 to 3%. Comparing to the usage of disposable pads is less than 1%. And spreading a word about this has been a big challenge for us. It’s difficult to sustain our product in front of big brands. We do seek governments help regarding this,” said Mandal.
Pravin Nikam, founder of Roshni Organisation which works to educate children and improve women’s health. He is colloquially known as ‘period man’, he stressed on the point of cloth sanitary pads and some other likely solutions on this issue.
“Providing sanitary pads solves only half of the problem, but we also need to consider the disposable part of it. During our awareness campaigns we do advise to use cloth sanitary pads, by maintaining all hygiene standards. We also request school authorities to have vending machines or disposable insulators in the toilets,” Nikam said
Nikam further said, “In many schools, girls still don’t have access to functional toilets. 23% of adolescent girls drop out of school since proper facilities are not provided to them when they are menstruating. Not only should girls have access to clean water and proper sanitation but also to disposable facilities at schools.”
Neela Shinde (name changed), a 70-year-old Andheri resident shared her methods of using cotton pads during her periods.
“We were not having this facility of pads in those days. We would use the simple cotton, but with utmost care of hygiene. We would sterilise them in boiling water. Dry them in the sun, so that there won’t be moisture in the cotton. This was our regular monthly practice. And before monsoon kept ready the good stock of dry cotton,” said Shinde.
Asked about whether she ever felt shy of drying cotton pads in the open inside the sun, “There was some kind of awkwardness I lived in a joint family a slum area. But we had to follow it carefully for the betterment of our health,” she said.
On the other hand many women like 25 year old Manisha More (name changed) prefer and are comfortable using sanitary napkins, she said, “Availability of pads has made our life easy. But they are being thrown easily in the public toilets, which is very unhygienic and unhealthy. I think awareness need to be spread about how to dispose this waste,” said More.
Payal Tiwari, researcher on gender issues highlighted how often women in the public toilets has to suffer as pads are thrown in the toilets.
“In most of the public toilets there is no dustbin or vending machines. Due to social stigma and no facility they throw pad behind the door stuff into the ventilator holes of the window. This lead to suffocation, they can’t shut the door and chokes the toilet”.
“There has to be some system, if you want to provide protection to both environment and women. More encouragement for easily disposable pads, facility of disposable insulators, “she added.
Gynaecologist based in Pune, Dr Arun Gadre shown his concern over how to reduce gap between increasing garbage of non-degradable sanitary pads and maintaining the basic right of a women at same time.
“Sanitary pads are the basic need for health and hygiene proof life, it can’t be denied. At the same time biodegradable sanitary pads are necessary. But the question is how are we going achieve this? There are some social organisations who manufacture eco-friendly and disposable pads. They should be encouraged for large scale production and availability”.
“Using cotton pad during periods is absolutely fine with the best hygiene practice. But it’s almost impossible for today’s working women. Whereas in rural-tribal areas 40 to 50% women don’t have even access to separate bathroom. How they could then maintain cleanliness of themselves and that cotton pad during the periods?”