This Pune-based engineer is on a mission to spread the importance of responsible menstrual waste disposal

Sathya Natarajan, a mechanical engineer, is a serial volunteer - he has worked with over 60 organisations in the past two decades on issues ranging from menstrual waste management and sanitation to education and lake clean-up drives.

In a society where menstruation is still seen as taboo, there have been many challenges to tackle in India. Many women and girls do not have access to menstrual hygiene products, and grapple with unsanitary, potentially fatal, methods to manage their period. But even the use of sanitary napkins gives rise to another scary reality - the management of menstrual waste.

This is where Pune-based Sathya Natarajan, a mechanical engineer by profession, wants to make a difference.

The piling menstrual waste

According to The Menstrual Hygiene Alliance of India (MHAI), 36 percent of 336 million menstruating women in India use disposable sanitary napkins. This totals 121 million women who dispose of around eight sanitary napkins per menstrual cycle, which implies 12.3 billion disposable sanitary napkins are adding to the landfills annually.

While the environmental ramifications of such a staggering statistic is enough to have your head reeling, do not forget the sanitation and health concerns that crop up for those handling menstrual waste in India.

Sathya Natarajan

Sathya knew that with the dismal, or sometimes non-existent, state of waste segregation in India, disposal of sanitary napkins needed a closer look. He has, therefore, been actively creating some noise surrounding menstrual waste management.

Speaking to SocialStory, the 43-year-old says,

“In the past five years, I have conducted over 100 plus sessions for Project Red Dot. The Red Dot campaign is a city-wide project which was launched in this year on February 7, and it was divided into two projects. One, to create awareness on how to dispose of sanitary napkins and second, how to make sanitary napkin manufacturing more accountable. In these sessions, I have spoken to over 4,000 women, eight societies, and over 20 schools on how to manage waste and adopt waste segregation practices.”

Dignity of labour

Do you recall your local civic body’s instructions on segregating your household waste and that waste pickers will only collect the segregated waste? But how many of us pay heed to these directions?

Very few, Sathya says, who points out the main issue: disposing of sanitary napkins in plastic bags. He explains that SWaCH (Solid Waste Collection and Handling) workers, who are mostly women, have to open each bag they collect to check the contents inside.

The Red Dot Campaign

He adds,

“There are 1,600 women SWaCH workers in Pune and all of them have to deal with this menace daily. It is not an easy task, as they have to do the job meant to be done by every citizen who uses sanitary napkins.”

Sathya points out the plight of these women workers who are exposed to infections and disease whilst handling menstrual waste, as they are often not fitted with substantial gear to protect themselves.

To counter the issue and make sure the residents are doing their bit to segregate waste properly, Sathya has been carrying out various sanitary napkin waste segregation campaigns. He also holds sessions among students in schools and societies in Pune.

Sathya taking his sessions on sanitary hygiene

A lifelong commitment

But this is not all. Since 1997, Sathya has been active in over 60 organisations working for social causes. Ranging from education and environment, to health and sanitation, this engineer has spent the past two decades in, as the saying goes, trying to make the world a better place to live in.

When it comes to education, he has taught 75 students at his free nightly tuitions. The students are the children of labourers and from underprivileged sections of the society.

Sathya says,

“I teach them computer literacy, and these kids are either on the verge of graduating from schools or are still studying.”

Conducting a tree plantation drive session

Sathya’s lifelong love for social activism and volunteerism stems from his upbringing. His parents, he says, instilled a strong sense of seva in while growing up. Sathya recalls accompanying his grandmother to various social drives when he was but a child.

“During my college days, I joined the National Service Scheme (NSS). Now, I am a prominent member of NSS and conduct various programmes in colleges that talk about construction and maintenance of check dams for water conservation,” he explains.

Such dedication requires a considerable amount of commitment, especially when it comes to time. Apart from his day job at an IT firm the engineer also works from home on a second job at night. A mere five hours of sleep ensures he stays on top of his volunteerism. Weekends are generally spent completely working on social drives.

Sathya, during his two-decade-long volunteerism, has been a part of over a hundred sessions conducted by the Pune Municipal Corporation and the city police. He is also a volunteer for Grow Trees, a Mumbai-based organisation that allows you to plant trees with just a few clicks and gift them to celebrate festivals, birthdays, anniversaries or other special occasions using its personalised e-certificate.

War on waste

Sathya has also participated in several clean-up drives. For the revival of Mastani lake, he cleared almost 100 kg of plastic all by himself in just four hours.

“The lake had a historical significance and after the clean-up drive, many visitors started visiting the lake,” he says.

He adds that he and other volunteers collect up to at least two tonnes of waste in each clean-up drive. It is then segregated and sent to either kabadiwalas or to a nearby recycling plant, where all the segregated plastic is recycled.

But sanitation has always been Sathya’s personal pet project. He says he comes across different cultural and social beliefs surrounding menstruation at his sanitation and hygiene group.

During a cleanliness drive in Pune

He says, “There are people in the group who will encourage women to use eco-friendly sanitary pads, whereas some people say that women shouldn’t step outside the home and should rest during the period. People from all sections of society with different opinions are in this group, with constant interactions discussions I can see that some people tend to learn and change the way they think towards the issue of menstruation.”

Through this group, Sathya also tends to promote the usage of menstrual cups and the proper usage of sanitary pads and disposal.

As far as his immediate plans with social activism go, Sathya says, “My plan is to continue what I am doing and keep fighting for the welfare of the SWaCH workers and for dignity. I am conducting sessions on plastic usage and its disposal, and want to continue talking to people about its impact on the environment."

(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)


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