Menstruation. I’ve yet to meet a person who undergoes this and associates this word with completely positive connotations. Dread it, run from it, it still arrives all the same. While many of us have probably never given this a second thought, have you ever wondered where all the used period products end up?
This is a huge crisis, and let’s put this in perspective. A single woman can generate up to 125 kg of non-biodegradable waste through her menstruating years alone. Shocked by the number? Keep in mind that every month, around 353 million women and adolescent girls across India use sanitary products and generate menstrual waste. And this number is growing with each passing day.
Are these statistics alarming? Extremely. How did we get here in the first place? Women in India mainly use disposable pads or traditional cloth to manage their periods. This is largely due to aggressive campaigning for disposable pads by the government and the media. But little has been done to create awareness of other, cheaper, more sustainable alternatives, and a proper way to manage and dispose of them (No, they are not recyclable, and no, throwing them into the river or dumping them somewhere does not help).
Here’s how we can change this.
Disposable sanitary pads are not the only period product out there- which is great, because it’s painfully obvious how unsustainable and wasteful they are from the environmental point of view. Thankfully, there are a couple of eco-friendly alternatives out there to soothe our environment-conscious consciences- the most popular ones being menstrual cups, reusable cloth pads, and period underwear. Though the initial investment can be high, unlike disposable pads it won’t be recurring. And it will more than makeup for that as it is reusable, endorsed by the medical community, and will have no adverse health effects if used hygienically.
Making the switch from disposable sanitary pads, however, is easier said than done. There’s always the fear of trying out unfamiliar products, societal taboos, and lack of availability- and that’s completely valid. But there’s always a way you can help. Responsible disposal of pads is an extremely neglected facet of waste management.
One way is the usage of incinerators for disposal, if possible. If incinerators are used according to eco-friendly guidelines, for example at certain specific temperatures around 800°C, they create less pollution. It is high time these are installed in schools, institutions, and slum areas and at the community level.
At the very least, sanitary waste should be kept in the dry waste bin and should be handed over separately. Menstrual waste should not be disposed of along with domestic waste. Pads should be properly wrapped in newspaper or separate disposable bags and then thrown in the dustbins. By doing this it should also be safe for rag pickers and waste segregation as it does not expose them to any disease-causing pathogens.
It’s time to green the red. While it can be easy to be a defeatist and just accept we’re headed towards imminent doom, it’s not going to help us in any way. Unfortunately, hoping for something to magically the status quo does not work (trust me, I’ve been there). You can either change your existing habits or modify your existing habits, as simple as that. We have only one Earth, let’s at least give it a shot!