Why sanitary Waste should be a separate waste stream

While the disposal of sanitary waste along with household waste as it is being done now ends in a landfill with visible effects of hurting the environment, the health of the sanitation and conservation workers who handle this is an invisible issue. I have been a witness to this, even writing a petition to the National Green tribunal Southern Zone, praying that the producers of sanitary pads and diapers put in place a sound eco-friendly disposal system as required under law and set up a revolving fund to treat the unsuspecting conservancy workers for the ailments caused by handling sanitary waste.

Everywhere else in the world except in India, producers have taken on the task of disposal of sanitary waste, also called “absorbent hygiene products” waste, using the latest technology to convert the waste into reusable raw materials and products like plastic pellets, hard board, and even compost for non-agricultural purposes. Some examples of this can be seen at knowaste.com and envirocomp.com

Taking a lesson out of this, one hopes the petition will result in the establishment of a proper collection, storage and an eco-friendly disposal system by the Municipal and Pollution Control Board Authorities in consonance with the producers of these products. Our current legal provisions direct that the establishment of anything less than what has been laid down in the Plastic Waste (Management & Handling) Rules will not be accepted. Sanitary Waste should be, like in other parts of the world, treated as exclusive and dealt with. That is the reason why there is the Extended Producer’s Responsibility (EPR) defined in the Act – that the producers are responsible for the environmentally sound management of the product until the end of its life.

This is as far as the waste being disposed off along with household waste is concerned. But what about the waste being flushed down the toilet. Besides, creating drain blocks and all the concomitant problems, we are all aware that the drainage systems in our country end in water bodies – be they irrigation tanks, rivers, lakes or the seas around us. So the dregs of the waste are already in our food and water chains indirectly, and directly, through desalinated drinking water – the 21st century solution to drinking water problems in coastal metropolitan cities. 100 ml of desalinated water is supplied to South Chennai. To my knowledge, no workplace where women work have a sanitary waste disposal receptacle due to which they are flushed down the drain…several millions of sanitary pads every month around the country.

Incinerators are being looked at as the best solution to dispose off sanitary waste. If the Municipal authorities can put in a mechanism for collecting only sanitary waste, then they can insist upon the producers to put in an environment-friendly disposal system. Allow incinerators, and the Municipal Authorities will end up burning everything as is proposed in the draft Solid Waste Management Rules 2015, where it states that all waste of ‘high calorific value’ can be incinerated and sanitary waste being nearly wholly plastic has ‘very high’ calorific value. The rest of the world does not permit incineration and so why should we?

— G. Vijay Kumar

G. Vijay Kumar is a Social Worker, Chennai who has filed a case in the National Green Tribunal, Southern Bench, on behalf of public interest, against six corporations that manufacture disposable sanitary pads.

Sign the petition that asks MoEF to amend MSW Rules 2015 for proper management of absorbent hygiene product waste as a separate waste stream.

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