A couple of decades ago, when everyone from brands to NGOs to government started promoting the idea of making sanitary pads available for all women, no one could perhaps foresee magnitude of its negative impact then. The so-called safety and convenience of using pads has silently given birth to the burgeoning pollution in landfills and health issues, and it is rising faster than we can imagine.
Menstrual waste creation, and the safety issues that entail
Almost all our activities are contributors to the problem of ever-rising landfills, sanitary pad waste being a significant one of them. Today, sanitary napkins contribute to 45 percent of the total menstrual waste disposed every year.
The Menstrual Hygiene Alliance of India (MHAI) estimates that 36 per cent of 336 million menstruating women in India use disposable sanitary napkins.
This totals 121 million women, who dispose around eight sanitary napkins per menstrual cycle, which implies 12.3 billion disposable sanitary napkins are adding to the landfills annually. One can imagine the havoc this can wreak on the environment, considering the fact that most of these are not biodegradable/ compostable, or would take 500-800 years to decompose).
Apart from creating environmental problems, researchers have found that synthetic menstrual products disrupt the vaginal pH balance and many users have often complained of pads as they cause rashes/chafing. In fact prolonged direct contact during menstruation can lead to many diseases such as vaginitis and toxic shock syndrome (TSS) too.
Solution through innovation
Many startups have realised the drawbacks of synthetic sanitary pad usage and are aligning their vision with giving India more sustainable menstrual hygiene products. The idea is not to rid the country of pads entirely, but to make the related products eco-friendly. Other than modifying pads to become biodegradable or even reusable as well as safer, startups are creating better alternatives to sanitary napkins.
This is where biodegradable tampons and menstrual cups come into the picture. While tampons still stay disposable, menstrual cups are bell shaped silicon cups which can last years. This ‘reusable’ nature of menstrual cups not only helps decrease waste creation but also becomes a better financial choice. These are inserted like a tampon, however, unlike a tampon which absorbs blood, menstrual cups collect the menstrual blood (like a container) and can be reused after a quick wash – cups don’t absorb anything and hence are comparatively a safer option for women.
Many pads users are now moving to cups as it doesn’t result in any rashes, others are using them from pure convenience perspective. Cups are being also taken up by women suffering from PCOS – it keeps them ever prepared to take on surprise flow without worrying about ‘changing’.
Such innovations are making periods safer not just for women but also for the environment.
What’s hindering the growth of safer menstrual hygiene solutions?
It is not uncommon to see reluctance among people in general to any change or innovation for the fear of what the ‘unfamiliar’ might bring. Menstrual cups are a whole new chapter as these are to be inserted, and while it’s environmentally, and financially a far more superior alternative to traditional options, the adoption would take time in rural India where with awareness change will start to show. In urban India however, the adoption is happening at a faster pace.
Moving to a healthier, environmentally safer tomorrow
To boost the adoption rate of products such as menstrual cups, leading innovators are now targeting the youth. This woke group of individuals is more open to the idea of environmentally-friendly products that can make the world a better place to live. The highest scope of adoption lies among these educated millennial women, who are more open to start using biodegradable tampons and eventually switch to menstrual cups. To make the most of this ‘wokeness’, and promote sustainable feminine hygiene products, environmental awareness and intimate health should be integrated with education in schools and colleges.
While startups are planning to make urban India switch to more sustainable menstrual hygiene products, the government must collaborate with them to conduct awareness programs in the rural areas. Many startups are already distributing menstrual cups and biodegradable options for free to those from economically weaker sections.
While challenges surrounding maintenance of feminine intimate hygiene have been identified, there is need to constantly work on better solutions and make India free of non-biodegradable pads. It is only by spreading awareness across all socio-economic sectors can we make the dream of a “pad-free country” a reality sooner than imagined.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)