Author – Suchika Arora
Rural schools in India typically face high rates of high absenteeism and dropouts, which is particularly high among girl students. Poverty, lack of knowledge and unhygienic menstrual methods are the major reasons. Lack of access to sanitary napkins is another problem; when they are available, their disposal becomes an equally compelling issue. Swati Bedekar, a social entrepreneur working in the field of menstrual hygiene realized the gravity of the problem.
Swati Bedekar is a member of Vatsalya Foundation (Gujarat), which manufactures and distributes sanitary napkins at a low cost under the brand name ‘Sakhi’. Vatsalya Foundation provides these napkins at a minimal cost of INR2, so that women can make a switch from cloth rags to sanitary napkins. However, such a switch gives rise to another problem in rural areas – the safe disposal of used napkins.
The used napkins if left or thrown in open can pose serious health hazards; therefore proper disposal to prevent the spread of bacteria and foul odor is important. Further, since sanitary napkins are made of synthetic material, it takes around 500-800 years for them to decompose. The average Indian woman in urban areas throws away more than 10,000 disposable pads in her lifetime! If every woman of reproductive age starts using sanitary napkins, a staggering 58,500 million waste pads would be generated in India every year.
To address this problem, Swati along with her husband, designed a clay incinerator, which enables disposal of used sanitary napkins. They named the incinerator “Ashudhinashak”, which means destruction of impurities in Sanskrit. This incinerator can burn many used napkins at a time, and can turn them into ashes without spreading smoke. When the incinerator is filled with used napkins, a burning matchstick is inserted in it through an opening in the bottom. The waste then burns down into ashes that can be removed using a tool provided along with the incinerator. The ash produced can be mixed with soil to nourish plants. This novel innovation prevents littering and helps women to dispose of their used napkins in an eco-friendly way.
Advantages of Clay Incinerators
Clay incinerators have many advantages:
- Disposing of sanitary napkins in a hygienic and eco-friendly way
- Creation of livelihood for local potters as incinerators are made of clay and cement
- Cheaper way to dispose of waste
- Compact and handy, and it is safe from theft due to its low value
The price of clay incinerator is INR1500 each as against electric incinerators that cost somewhere around INR18,000-22,000. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan officials in Gujarat have decided to install these incinerators in all government schools across Gujarat. In fact, there is already a rise in attendance of girls in the schools where these incinerators are installed.
These clay incinerators are eco-friendly and cheap, and hence are being installed in schools, hospitals, primary health centers and homes. Besides solving the problem of menstrual waste disposal, these also provide livelihood to local potters. Vatsalya Foundation and Bedekars have trained and developed a group of potters to manufacture these incinerators. Due to their unique features and benefits, these clay incinerators are gaining demand not just in Gujarat, but across other neighboring states as well.