‘Only reusable pads made of organic materials can ensure sustainable menstrual hygiene’
Considering the immense non-biodegradable waste generated by disposable sanitary pads every month, sustainable menstrual hygiene in India is possible only with reusable pads made of organic materials, said Anju Bist, Co-Director, Amrita SeRVe (Self Reliant Village) Program of Mata Amritanandamayi Math.
Known as the “Pad Woman” of India for her zeal in promoting the use and reuse of sanitary pads made of cloth and banana fibre, she has been instrumental in creating awareness in schools and colleges to acquaint young girls with facts about menstruation, and the environmental and health impacts of menstrual hygiene products. She is also the co-creator of Saukhyam Reusable Pads which have been awarded “Most Innovative Product” by the National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad. The production unit for banana fibres used in these pads as absorbent material is situated near Chennai.
Said Anju Bist: “There are 355 million menstruating women and girls in India but, as per the National Family Health Survey (2015-2016) data, only 57% of them in the age group 15-25 years have access to hygienic products to manage their menstruation. There are laudable efforts by many organizations to make disposable pads available to those who cannot afford them. However, if every woman of reproductive age in India were to use disposable sanitary pads, an estimated 5,800 crore (58 billion) soiled pads would be discarded annually. How does one get rid of soiled pads? Burning releases harmful dioxins and furans. Burying is no good either because the pads are non-biodegradable.
It is estimated that each disposable pad has the equivalent of four plastic bags in it and will take 500-800 years to decompose. Is this the legacy we want to leave behind?”
Talking about the potential health effects of disposable sanitary pads, Meera Krishnakutty, Amrita SeRVe (Self Reliant Village) Program, Mata Amritanandamayi Math, said: “Most disposable pads use cellulose fiber as the absorbent material. This is derived from cutting down of trees. Cellulose fiber used in India is currently imported. The bleaching of this to obtain pure white color leads to the presence of trace amounts of harmful dioxins on the pads. The skin in the vaginal area is highly permeable. Anything that is in constant contact with the skin is likely to end up in the bloodstream too. Dioxins are endocrine disruptors and among the most harmful substances known to mankind. Many hospital pharmacies have now started stocking eco-friendly options for menstrual hygiene that are not only good for the planet, but also good for one’s body.”
Until recently in India, there were only large multinational companies making disposable sanitary pads. The Indian sanitary pad market is worth several thousand crores of rupees annually. Reusable pads are being embraced by young and informed women in metropolitan cities but awareness regarding even the existence of such products is poor in smaller cities and villages in India. Said Anju Bist: “Investments are needed so that eco-friendly reusable pads can be made available to people at affordable prices. There is a need to generate awareness among the masses and make these products available in mainstream shops. The media can do a huge service to the country and to the society by helping spread awareness about reusable pads.”
Big businesses all over the world are beginning to embrace the principles of the circular economy in which there is no waste. What is left over after a product’s useful life-cycle ends is used again as raw material and resource in the next cycle of production. Products meant to be used only once and thrown away are not so popular in this new economy.
Adds Anju Bist: “Reusable pads made of organic materials is clearly an idea whose time has come. Not only are such reusable products helping many consumers save money, they are also offering a better choice to educated and well-informed women who want to do their bit for the planet. For every woman who switches over to reusable pads, Mother Earth will be burdened by 40,000-60,000 less plastic bags. This is the only way to make menstrual hygiene accessible and affordable.”