Over the years, we’ve been challenging many taboos on menstrual hygiene and sanitation with films like Pad Man to legalising the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple. But, there’s been hardly any talks on the disposal of used menstrual waste products.
Once a napkin is used, it goes through the ritual of being wrapped in a sheet of newspaper and placed in polythene bag, and then thrown in the bin. No proper means to dispose these waste products means these end up getting buried in landfills. It is said that plastic used in these sanitary napkins will take around 800 years to decompose. In the light of this adversity, many startups are working towards 100 per cent organic options.
Talking about the benefits of organic sanitary napkins, Dr Rita Bakshi, Senior Gynaecologist and IVF Expert at International Fertility Centre, says, “I really support the idea of using biodegradable sanitary napkins, as they contribute towards saving the environment and simultaneously serve the purpose. Marketed to be consumer friendly, the pads available in the market nowadays are known to cause allergies, infections and rashes because they’ve been enhanced with artificial perfumes.
“Plastic or cosmetic pads are dangerous especially for teenagers as the vulva then is very sensitive. Not only this, the cellulose gel is like a chemical to the vulva and has cancer-causing substances. The sanitary napkins made out of plastic carry a higher chance of fungal infections due to the high moisture content in them. These can be really stressing for the health of the vagina as it can result in unwanted allergies and infections. Thus, go for biodegradable pads which are comparatively much safer, hygienic and prevents health hazards that the plastic ones may cause,” adds Bakshi.
Complaints of rashes and allergies caused by sanitary napkins are increasingly on the rise among teens. So, when Shashwat Diesh, 28, heard his sister complain, he decided to look for solutions. Along with his friend Aqib Mohammed, they started a premium feminine hygiene brand – AZAH, in October 2018. “While making a product that is comfortable for women, we’ve also been focusing on making it eco-friendly. Our napkins are made with organic cotton, absorbing upto 1,000 times its weight in water. The napkins are also chemical-free, and all layers except the bottom-most are made from cotton or paper,” shares Diesh, who is expecting to launch a 100 per cent organic napkins in the next two months.
Working on the same concept are Monica Bindra, Nazish and Ali Mir, founders of Laiqa – a homegrown, premium and bio-degradable sanitary napkin brand. A quick chat with Bindra and Nazish, reveals that they use only seven per cent plastics in their product. “While the conventional napkins are loaded with plastics, from the packaging to the napkin itself, we have been very careful about the elements used in our products. Along with that, there’s recyclable external packaging and a bio-degradable disposable bag for each napkin. In a couple of months, we will launch 100 percent organic napkins,” shares Nazish. This environment day, Laiqa is also taking the initiative to exchange their napkins for plastic-free ones.
Management of sanitary waste-disposables raises issues of exposing people to bacteria. Especially rag-pickers who segregate the garbage without gloves and masks. These plastic sanitary napkins carry infections which can also harm the animal that consumes them. It can even block drains, and release poisonous gases when burnt.
The best way to dispose used napkins is through an incinerator, says Nazish. “Once you put them in the incinerator, it burns it into ashes that can be further used as manure. We are looking forward to creating awareness among societies to use incinerators for proper disposable.”
Use menstrual cups, professes Dr Kalapana Apte, CEO, Family Planning Association of India. “These are better than tampons and pads for their long term usage with significant cost savings, no odour as it does not come in contact with the air, and offers more time between changes (up to 10 hours).”
Adding to it, Gurugram-based Deep Bajaj, Founder of PeeBuddy and Sirona, discusses two eco-friendly options: either go back to using cloth or shift to a more sustainable option of using menstrual cups. “There are two types of cups. Rubber-based plastic or medical grade silicon.” Three major factors, he says, are rapidly increasing the demand of cups. Firstly, cups only collect the menstrual blood and do not absorb it. So when this blood is disposed, it is minus those impurities that are contracted from a used sanitary napkin. “This way, the flora or fauna is not contaminated. Secondly, one cup can be used for ten years. Lastly, financial constraints are also causing the shift to cups. While the urban India is gradually embracing the cup, we are writing to various officials to introduce cups in rural India so that we don’t face the problems of spreading bacteria or turning the agriculture grounds into landfills. I believe that we should move towards a more sustainable alternative for the good.”