Author – Rayomand Gheesta
I woke up the other day to the sound of the garbage man arguing with one of the residents of the township I stay in. He was protesting about the way sanitary napkins and used diapers were disposed off. Since they are medically pathogenic, he wanted people to recognize a proper way of throwing them off after use. On giving it some thought, I figured he had a point. There isn’t a standardized way of disposing a sanitary napkin. It is just rolled in paper, put in a plastic bag and just thrown off in garbage. Waste workers while separating these non-biodegradable napkins, can be infected with infections and allergies. There badly needs a humane way for them to handle this kind of waste.
Used sanitary napkins and disposable diapers are one category of waste nobody wants to talk about. However, the enormous volumes of napkins produced and the threat they pose to the environment are real. On top of that, due to increasing consumption due to aggressive marketing, we have a situation where we are running out of space for waste disposal.
To counter this, SWaCH NGO have come up with a disposable paper bag that costs INR1 to pack the used sanitary napkin before chucking it into the dustbin. These bags have a bright yellow sticker with the details of usage, which makes it recognizable by waste pickers to separate it. However, this solution just caters to the tip of the problem.
Picture this: A parent choosing disposable diapers for an infant, typically till the baby is two years old, would run through nearly 1,500-2,000 disposable diapers (365 days x 2-3 diapers x 2 years), which would require 20 trees to be cut down and 1,180 liters of crude oil to be utilized for their manufacture. The statistics around feminine hygiene products are no less alarming. Only 12% of the 355 million women of menstruating age in India can afford disposable sanitary napkins. However, these 42.6 million Indian women will throw away 21.3 billion sanitary napkins into a landfill in their lives.
Apart from wood pulp used in both disposable diapers and sanitary napkins, chlorine bleach is a key ingredient that is used to whiten the pulp. Chlorine bleach is both an environmental hazard, which releases toxic chemicals as a by-product of the bleaching process. Diapers and sanitary napkins finally end up in a landfill since there is no option to dispose them in a safe manner.
Fortunately, as with any problem, there are a few innovative solutions for avoiding non-bio-degradable sanitary napkins and disposable diapers.
Reusable Modern Cloth Diapers
As a substitute for normal diapers, Reusable modern cloth diapers can be used. These cloth diapers have a water-tight outer cover with a washable cloth insert inside. Once full, the wastes are flushed down the toilet and the insert can be washed and re-used. Further, the baby does not come in contact with harmful chemicals found in a normal disposable diaper and cloth diapers turn out far more economical over 2 years as compared to your regular environment polluting diapers.
Similarly, a few options exist for concerned women who want to explore healthier and eco-friendly sanitary napkins.
The first is the “SheCup” that is worn internally, and is made from silicone and designed like a cup to collect the menstrual blood. This can be worn for 12 hours. Once full, the contents of the cup can simply be emptied into the toilet, and the cup can be cleaned and worn again.
Reusable Sanitary Napkin
The second option is a reusable sanitary napkin made from cloth. The design and use of these cloth napkins is similar to disposable napkins, and they provide absorbency by using many layers of cotton. They have options for heavy and light flow days and a combination of the two can fully substitute disposable napkins every month. They are quite easy to care for as well, and can even be washed in a washing machine after soaking and removing all the menstrual discharge. Here again, the reusable cloth napkins protects the user from coming in contact with a number of harmful chemicals found in disposable napkins.
Bio-degradable Sanitary Napkins
A third upcoming option is using Bio-degradable sanitary napkins that are being produced by a few companies. Social taboo of an unspoken topic will always be a roadblock towards incorporating changes. It may need a lot of counseling, spreading of information and more than anything an open mind to shift to these options. But every sanitary napkin or disposable diaper you can save from a landfill will have a cascading effect and positively impact forests, water, air, the city you live in and your health.
Current Innovations Incorporated in India
- Arunachalam Muruganantham of Jayaashree Industries designed and implemented a sanitary napkin-making machine that operates on a small scale. This manual sanitary napkin-making machine can be made available to a buyer for approximately INR75,000. This national innovation foundation award winning idea allows smaller players to adopt the business model, and thus generates more employment.
- Aakar Foundation produces an eco-friendly, low cost, biodegradable sanitary napkin, ‘Anandi’. Priced at a price 40% lower than commercial napkins, the foundation focuses on small towns and villages and now has a commercial production unit in West Bengal.
- Sakura Magic produced by the Hope Foundation is India’s first 100% handmade, eco-friendly and hypo allergenic sanitary napkin. It is a sanitary napkin with imported SAP Gel from Japan has been made possible with the technological assistance from GN Corporation Ltd., Japan.
- Reusable diapers are slowly gaining popularity. ‘Bumchum’ were India’s first modern diaper line. But now various stores like Firstcry, Smartbaby, Babyoye offering the same.