IS SUSTAINABLE PERIOD POSSIBLE?
- About 355 million girls and women experience menstruation in India. They face multilayered barriers to effective Menstrual Hygiene Management because of various social and economic factors.
- According to the Report of the Ministry of Health, only 12% of women and girls have access to sanitary napkins in India while a majority of them rely on outdated, unhygienic methods during menstruation.
- According to a report published by WaterAid, illnesses related to a lack of water, basic sanitation and hygiene were responsible for the deaths of almost 800,000 women around the world in a single year making it the fifth biggest killer of women behind heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory infections, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
BASIC BIOLOGY BEHIND MENSTRUATION
Every month ovaries prepare for the egg to be released. When an egg is released from ovaries, it travels through the Fallopian tube. Female uterus lining starts to grow as egg waits for fertilization. If the egg doesn’t fertilize then uterus lining breaks down and menstruation happens. The menstruation cycle processes start from menarche and end up to menopause.
Not all women undergo a comfortable cycle. Fluctuations can be experienced in the period; sometimes a heavy blood flow and sometimes shorter periods or irregular periods are observed. Periods are dynamic. This process is associated with hormone secretions and leads to diverse physical, psychological, and behavioral changes.
WHAT ALL IMPACTS MENSTRUATION?
This “Monthly visitor” is no longer a taboo between us. Tackling with menstruation stigma is a major challenge in our society. Women use their own strategies to handle menstruation depending on the availability of resources, their financial status, sanitation facilities, religious beliefs, and superstition. Periods are not gross and dirty, that’s natural, they’re just part of women’s body, and there is nothing to be ashamed of. The period has gotten a lot of attention over the past years. But do we know that the cost of having a period is very high?
Lack of structural environment, resources, information, and support may impact women’s and girls’ self-esteem, confidence, bodily autonomy, educational experiences, and lead to negative health outcomes. Period poverty is an issue majorly associated with rural areas, where women still continue to practice traditional methods and continually compromises with their health and safety.
MENSTRUATION HYGIENE is a major concern as it is closely associated with health. In rural areas, lack of access to sanitary products forces women to use cloth, which is reused again after washing and drying. But don’t feel happy if you using a sanitary pad because you aren’t safe either. 90 percent of the sanitary napkins available in the market contain plastic that is the major cause of health issues such as cancer, tract infections, infertility, skin diseases, etc. in women.
If you compromise with hygiene and self-care, you can suffer from UTI urinary tract infections where microbes invade the urinary tract. Around 60% of women were diagnosed with common reproductive tract infections due to poor menstrual hygiene, according to the 2012 United Nations Population Fund Study. Yeast infection is common during periods. The use of unbreathable pads provides yeast with a favorable moist substrate to grow. Because of fear of infection, experts recommend breathable period protection.
MENSTRUAL WASTE is another threat linked to periods. The commercial plastic pads are non-biodegradable in nature and their improper disposal adds to the harm they do to the environment.
- 12.3 billion Disposable sanitary pads are generated every year
- India generates 113000 tons of sanitary waste annually
- Each sanitary napkin takes 500-600 years to degrade.
So, ladies what do you think, your period waste is environmentally friendly?
A single woman generates 125kg of waste. Disposal solution for menstruation waste is still unexplored. Study on Menstruation Waste Management from the Ministry of Sanitation shows that 28% of pads are thrown in routine garbage and 28% are thrown in open. This is one of the major reasons that a lot of waste is littering our landfills and oceans. Also, garbage pickers who collect our waste can suffer from diseases like hepatitis and tetanus as the waste generated contains microorganisms like salmonella, staphylococcus, and pathogens. Need is to educate people and spread awareness about environmental pollution and health hazards associated with sanitary products.
SO WHAT ARE THE PERIOD PRODUCT OPTIONS?
There are multiple products available in the market today. Need is to understand the repercussions they have on humans and the environment and choose the safest one.
There are many period products available in the market. Choosing a type of period protection is up to you.
- Commercial Sanitary Napkin: Made from material like fluff type wood pulp and bleached plastic, contain polymer in the upper layer (SAP), SAP is petroleum-based material so they do not degrade in landfills. This Comes in various shapes and sizes
- Menstrual Cups: These are made of silicon grades, the cup holds period blood at the cervix by folding in half with the rim facing upwards, can be used up to 12 hours. It should be washed properly before and after use
- Reusable/washable Cloth pads: This period product is free from plastic and is made from cotton. These pads can be washed and reused
- Menstrual Sea Sponges: These are renewable and biodegradable natural resources. They are like tampons, can be inserted into the vagina during periods. A gynecologist named Dr. Jen Gunter who is also New York Times columnist claimed that “anyone who tells you to put sea sponges into your vagina wants you to grow more bacteria that causes Toxic Shock Syndrome. She found them very unsafe and dirty“
- Tampons: Tampons absorb flow by insertion into the vagina and soaks up menstrual blood. These are made from rayon and cotton. However, it can’t be left overnight
- Organic pads: There are pads available in the markets that are made from natural sources. One such type of product is Bamboo & Corn Starch Pad. Absorption capacity defines the efficiency of pads. Even during heavy flow, this eco-friendly option works as super absorbent. Also, these pads are less bulky, breathable and biodegradable. Organic pads are animal-friendly. These are free from animal ingredients and pesticides. Also, SAP is replaced by cellulose-based gel. It gives a highly comfortable silky feel and also prevents stickiness in warm conditions. Corn starch prevents skin from rashes and any kind of irritation.
“The environmental benefit of this product is that it creates a positive impact on the planet where we can say every woman is contributing her part towards nature.”
DO WE KNOW WHICH PERIOD PROTECTION IS BEST FOR US?
Do we really have proper knowledge about the materials from which our sanitary pads are made of? Women’s voice for the earth is an American environmental organization in Missoula researched about toxic chemicals used in household and cosmetic products especially in menstruation protection products that harm women’s health. It published a report in 2013 which States that “several carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, surface irritants are being used in menstruation hygiene products”
On one side there are traditional pads made of plastic that are used in the majority, and on another hand, there are eco-friendly pads of which we are not fully aware.
Let us have some reality check over our Dear Sanitary Pads.
- Majorly all pads contain a plastic top layer that is made up of very low-quality LDPE plastic. The vaginal mucous membrane is permeable and can absorb harmful chemicals like dioxin directly into the bloodstream that causes rashes, imprints on the crotch area.
- Some pads are scented and artificially perfumed. Artificial fragrance added in pads can cause irritation, infection, itching and endocrine disruption.
- The motive of menstruation is to prepare a woman for fertilization but the toxins present in the period products are opening the door for severe health issues such as infertility and cervical cancer. Shockingly, 132000 Indian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer per year.
These non-biodegradable traditional pads are neither doing any good to our environment.
According to menstruation Health Alliance India, “Each napkin carries 2gm plastic that is impossible to decompose. These pads contain Organo-chlorine which delays the process of decomposition and biodegradation. Most of the pads have super adsorbent polymer such as polyacrylates, which makes them stain free. When this chemical comes in contact with soil and water after disposal, it creates a deadly combination resulting in water contamination.
These points are strong enough to raise concerns over the climate crisis we are facing recently. We need to switch to menstruation products that are not only a sustainable choice but also support and safeguards the life of menstruating women and girls.
GREEN PERIOD INITIATIVES
BAMBOO & CORN STARCH SANITARY PADS
There are some manufacturers promoting the use of organic sanitary napkins. Green Period initiative undertaken by them is an example of sustainable menstruation. In order to promote hygienic periods and a healthier lifestyle, natural menstrual products using 100% organic cotton, bamboo fiber, and corn starch are bring a transformation in the society. The National Mission On Bamboo Application, a Technology mission of the Indian Government under the Department of Science and Technology is supporting the use of bamboo pulp in the making sanitary napkins.
Surprised?? How can we make use of Bamboo fiber in making pads? Well, the benefits are immense and this will not be a secret anymore to you.
- Bamboo pulp has 300% more adsorbing power and is way softer than wood pulp. It also contains anti-bacterial properties that will help resist irritations during the menstrual cycle
- Bamboo corn starch made pads are chemical-free, unbleached, non-dyed, and most importantly pad layers are compostable and biodegradable
- It absorbs the fluid and distributes it to the rest of the pad within 2.5 seconds of discharge and gives complete dry feelings during menstruation. Also, it has 100% organic glue on the back of the pad so it doesn’t cause skin rash and allergy.
Each menstrual day we need to change pad within 3-4 hours; replacing plastic pads with the organic pads can boost menstrual hygiene. People should emphasize the use of reusable sanitary products or natural products made from material like bamboo pulp and corn starch, banana fiber, jute, etc. Education plays a key role in menstruation hygiene management. By educating both men and women we can create a great change. But there is a big management barrier, especially in rural areas where women usually rely on cloth and pads. Need is to change their mindset and make these organic pads available at pocket-friendly prices.
DISPOSAL OF PADS
Proper disposal practices should be adopted even when one is using organic sanitary products. A single woman has an average of 400 periods in her life; it means a lot of disposing of a single individual. According to solid waste management rule 2016, it is mandatory for manufacturers of sanitary products to arrange a sanitary disposal mechanism by giving wrappers along with the product. Along with the pads, the wrappers need to be made from eco-friendly and toxin-free materials. There should be instructions on product wrappers on how to dispose of them.
On a societal and collective basis, here are some organizations that took the matter in their hands by taking a step towards waste management.
To sustain nature, PANJI took an initiative to collect period waste and hand over it to the common Biomedical Treatment facility for incineration.
Vatslya Foundation in Gujarat also took a step forward in menstruation hygiene management. A lady named Swati designed an incinerator named it “ashudhinashak” which burns sanitary napkin without creating any smoke. Once the incinerator is full, waste is soaked and then burnt at low temperatures, and ashes are disposed of.
There are two proper ways for disposing of waste: Incineration and composting.
But incineration somehow creates air pollution with the release of fumes. This problem can be addressed by using organic pads instead of plastic sanitary pads.
STAY HYGIENIC FOR HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
The silence culture related to menstruation needs to come to an end. Sustainable menstruation is possible by spreading awareness through health campaigns about period positivity and waste management. So ladies! Who knew such a small change can make a huge impact?
It is tough to believe that switching to the organic product can be life-changing, but it is the high time we make a wise decision.
Be Kind!! Take care of your body and the planet.
There is a potential risk of infection if you’re still using plastic pads.
Use eco-friendly sanitary products, ensure their proper disposal, and make periods healthy.