Menstruation or monthly period is an indication of a good health of a woman, and menstrual hygiene has a huge role to play in this. While women were bleeding in sponges, grass, cotton, leaves in older days, the fast urban life has brought in the super absorbent disposable sanitary napkins as a replacement for these. The dark truth behind these gel-based/wood pulp-based ultra-thin napkins is that these come packed with plastics and chlorine which releases dioxins/carcinogens, and may also initiate many reproductive issues for women over a period of time. These pads, when burnt with incinerators, release a thick black flame and leave behind a residue due to the non-biodegradable plastic/petroleum based additives. Having learnt the harmful truth behind these disposables, it isn’t the ideal time to explore a plastic free alternative?
The rural Indian women, who cannot purchase the expensive pads every month, opt for cotton cloth during Menstruation. Unlike a disposable sanitary napkin, a cloth would burn slow and leaves behind no toxic residue. In order to match the comfort of an urban woman, many women self-help groups and NGOs have started manufacturing reusable cloth pads which come stitched in the same shape as the disposables and have buttons to avoid slipping of pads. These NGOs also provide an employment opportunity for rural women in India, and buying them is equivalent to supporting Women empowerment. Some brands are also selling menstrual silicone cups to collect blood instead of absorbing them, which is another eco-friendly option. A NGO named Goonj has also come up an initiative NJPC – ‘My Pad’ to facilitate collection of old cotton cloth material through donations and uses the same for stitching the cloth pads for the rural Indian women, who are still using dry leaves and grass during the Menstruation, to increase awareness of Menstrual hygiene among the poor.
Due to the chemicals involved in a sanitary napkin, it is often advised to change them every 4-5 hours and that would mean that, an average woman would spend 10,000+ disposable pads in her life time, which would either be flushed or discarded. These numbers are just for one woman. Imagine the amount of menstrual waste generated every day by women in one city. To add to the injury, when these pads are not segregated or wrapped properly and by the time it reaches the landfills, they come in contact with the organic waste. So a result of this is birds and dogs pecking these pads or dragging them all over the streets, which is extremely unhygienic for everyone in the surroundings. With the period of change, it’s time to ask ourselves a question, if we would want to contribute to something like this by using a disposable?
While volunteering for a few cleanup drives along the sea coast/lake restoration, I often notice that there are a huge number of sanitary napkins dumped in water bodies and landfills, and clearing them is definitely not a pleasant experience. The educated urban women definitely have a lesson to learn from the rural women, who opt for bio-degradable options for menstruating as the material either decomposes or burns without hurting the environment, whereas the urban woman menstruates leaving behind a huge number of non-biodegradables which harm/kill the marine life when dumped in to the sea coast, harm human beings and animals when dumped in landfills, pollute the atmosphere when burnt with incinerators.
For many reasons, the observations from my volunteering prompted me to opt for a reusable cloth pads. With a step taken to switch to reusable cloth pads, I realized that it would serve its actual purpose only if washed properly with chemical-free detergents. This was another step towards a sustainable lifestyle as I replaced my chemical packed detergent with a soap berry/soap nut based organic powder. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This Newton’s law was once again demonstrated when Varathur Lake in Bangalore bubbled up due to disposal of untreated detergent water into the lake and this could very well be avoided by opting for chemical free detergents.
When the plants and trees in our environment supply us with enough oxygen for survival, are we returning back the favor rightfully by opting for wood pulp based disposables for which many trees are felled? Using reusable options for menstruation also serves economical, as the cost involved in initial purchase could be recovered in a couple of months. I feel proud that I green the earth with my period instead of polluting it with disposables and I bleed the eco-friendly way without harming my Mother Nature. There is an alternative to everything in life. Are you ready to make a difference with this Period of Change?
Sandhya is a nature enthusiast, very passionate about Bird watching, travel and gardening. She volunteers with a few conservation groups to spread the message of Sustainable and eco-friendly living.
This post is part of Period Of Change, a 5-week campaign organized by The Kachra Project along with Earth&us that aims to mobilize people (both men and women) around menstrual waste as a starting point to lobby for change in current practices in MH waste management.