How people choose to navigate periods is all a matter of choices. Unfortunately, the most common period product used is the plastic sanitary pad. We need to open up conversation about menstrual products especially around the environmental implications of menstrual waste. The bulk of menstrual products, available to us, are far from environmentally friendly.
Sirona represents a minority of Indian brands that are better for the environment as well as for the user with a range of menstrual cups. Sirona also has better-for-you biodegradable pads, among several other products.
Minimising the environmental impact with your period is a monthly change which could make a world of a difference.
Around 70% of urban Indian women use sanitary pads and its disposal is matter of huge concern. This is much higher compared to the 48% of women living in rural India that use pads. There needs to be a tangible shift in this trend with menstruators switching to more sustainable alternatives which would make a difference in the amount of menstruation-related garbage generated every year.
The Impact of Plastic Pads on the Environment and our Health
Every year, 12.3 billion disposable sanitary pads are generated. Their production is easy, but disposing of them is a tough task. A single commercially produced sanitary pad could take 500-800 years to decompose. That’s because the plastic used to make the pad is non-biodegradable and can lead to health hazards as well as environmental pollution.
The everyday sanitary pads that we use contain super-absorbent polymers (SAP). These don’t decompose but slowly break down into microplastics, polluting the soil, water, and air. They also enter the food chain and inject toxins into the food that humans and animals consume- well on its journey back to us. It’s a matter of urgency to address, given that microplastics are even finding their way into the placentas of unborn babies.
36% of menstruating women use sanitary pads, and their environmental footprint is high due to the large number of plastics in each pad. Data suggests that the amount of plastic in each pad is equal to four plastic bags!
Another study reveals that 28% of these pads are thrown with other waste, 28% are thrown in the open, and 33% are disposed of by burial. 15% are burnt openly. All these methods create a monumental amount of pollution. These methods create ecological damage that would take time to undo if not addressed now.
The government has proposed burying pads in landfills or burning them. According to the law, every waste generator has to be separated into three divisions – wet, dry and domestic waste. Sanitary waste is supposed to be kept in the dry waste bin and handed over separately. There are many laws to handle sanitary waste, but these are rarely followed. Several times, pads end up in drains or dumpsites and cause water clogging and contamination. Implementing the rules to ensure the safe disposal of pads would make sense, especially in urban areas.
The plastic in sanitary pads isn’t the only problematic element. There are other chemicals in the pads that have serious health implications for women. These include dioxins that bleach the absorbent core and cause side effects such as pelvic inflammatory disease, immune system damage, ovarian cancer, diabetes, and impaired fertility. Therefore, it might just be better if we do away with pads altogether.
Tampons aren’t a viable alternative either. They cause pollution, possess harmful chemicals, and even have the potential to cause life-threatening conditions, including toxic shock syndrome, for those who wear them. Then, what can we do?
Better Solutions – Menstrual Cups, Discs, Cloth Pads and More
Sustainable menstrual alternatives are the way forward. These options are mostly eco-friendly and devoid of harmful chemicals. Many of these alternatives are also cost-effective, as they can be reused multiple times.
One such example is the menstrual cup.
These are small, funnel-shaped cups that are crafted from silicone. Menstrual cups are better for the environment since one cup lasts for several years.
A similar product is a menstrual disc, which fits back into your vaginal canal that meets your cervix. These are both inserted into the vagina and collect the period blood. While that may sound frightening at first, many users report vouch for it due to comfort and economic reasons in the long run.
Another alternative is using sanitary cloth pads. These are similar to handmade cloth that our grandmothers used in the past. Menstrual cloth pads are made of natural cotton and are safe to wear. They’re also better for the environment since they don’t need to be disposed of and are biodegradable. These are easy to make and are inexpensive, thus making them accessible and affordable for many.
Aside from these, there are other options such as reusable tampons, water hyacinth pads, banana or bamboo fiber pads, menstrual underwear.
How Switching To a Sustainable Alternative Can Make a Difference
Biodegradable napkins decompose in 6-12 months and reusable cloth pads and menstrual underwear are reusable for a couple of years. Medical-grade menstrual cups can be reused for many years. There are other plastic-free applicators, which are better than their counterparts.
Using sustainable products is better for the environment since these degrade naturally and don’t need to be burnt. That way, you’ll be decreasing the amount of air pollution you’re creating from burning plastic. You’ll also stop contributing to the mountains of plastic waste that pile up in landfills.
Many of these products are also devoid of bleach and other potentially harmful chemicals. This makes these products better for our health as well. You’ll also be contributing to new start-up industries, many of which employ women from underprivileged backgrounds. NGOs employ people in rural areas to make cloth napkins and more.
While talking about periods is still a taboo, with pharmacy shop attendants still inclined to wrap sanitary pads in a newspaper, we have a long way to go before we adopt genuinely sustainable practices in our everyday lives. Until then, we can all choose to change our habits and take pride in knowing that we’re doing our bit for a healthier and more eco-friendly lifestyle.
Which suitable alternative would you choose for environment friendly period waste disposal?