It is estimated that India, which already has around 1/5th of the world’s population, generates around 12 billion pads a year as menstrual waste. This is considering a modest average of 8 pads a cycle for each woman. So, it is not surprising that menstrual waste management is a huge problem in India.
To lend a deeper insight as to why menstrual waste management is a problem, let’s see what most varieties of pads are made of:
Apart from the cellulose, these are non-biodegradable substances. What is more alarming, is that these substances may interact with water and soil and create toxins. And the fact that most rural household resort to incineration to deal with menstrual waste just exacerbates this situation as it has been found that SAP based pads release carcinogenic toxins when burned improperly.
Menstrual Waste needs sophisticated mechanisms that start from proper segregation of menstrual waste till separate treatment of each type of menstrual waste. The irony is that we as the responsible populace of a nation haven’t been able to bring ourselves to segregate wet waste from dry waste, and our menstrual lifestyle requires us to segregate even menstrual waste! That too in a society (this is a global thing y’all! Yes, I mean Canadians and Americans go through this stuff!) where talking about womanhood is “uncomfortable”.
To put things into perspective, Sylvia Earle, a world renowned oceanographer said, “In the last 25 years, I haven’t been diving anywhere, even 2 miles under the sea, without seeing some form of our trash, a lot of it plastic.” Plastics are increasingly clogging our landfills and oceans. In fact, plastic waste disposal has become such a gigantic problem that more than 30 TRIILION DOLLARS (mind you, dollars!) are invested in finding alternatives to plastics. And fortunately, there have been breakthroughs in such research programmes but most of these technologies have been patented and have not been made available for wider users.
Enough about the environment. Did you know that using pads and tampons can actually cause infections, if not changed timely? And by ‘timely’, I mean every 3-4 hours. So, the statistics at the beginning where we take a modest 8 pads a cycle to calculate our average is a testament to the fact that many women actually overuse a single pad because of lack of proper sanitation. “Lack of proper sanitation and overuse + Societal taboos about womanhood” multiplied with years of regression = severe health complications. How many times have you consulted a gynaecologist about that rash in “that region”? Infections can range from rashes to life threatening complications, such as, TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome).
“But what is the solution” you may ask. We can all look towards more sustainable and HEALTHIER options such as menstrual cups and discs. Menstrual cups are made out of medical-grade silicone, which can be left inside of you for up to 12 hours! That is, you have to empty the cup only twice a day! Coupled with the fact that silicone is not toxic to aquatic life or organisms living in the soil and is not hazardous waste, menstrual cups are the ultimate period weapons. While silicone is not biodegradable, it can be recycled after a lifetime of use. Because silicone can resist extreme fluctuations in the environment, it will remain fit for recycling.
So, why are we stopping ourselves from switching to a better, healthier lifestyle? It is time we own our period and make it our “cup” of tea!
Author - Sanhita Guin