Over 9000 tonnes of sanitary waste is generated in India every year. Likewise, every year, nearly 423 million sanitary napkins containing plastics are generated and around 12.3 billion disposable sanitary napkins are consumed, the majority of which however are not biodegradable compostable.
The question is what happens if such huge numbers are used. They only end-up in the bowels of the landfills or the underbelly of the rivers or oceans. For instance, they can consume over 24 hectares of land, of which most of the menstrual pads are plastics. Another issue is that there are a lot of women who flush the pads which after usage ends-up in the drains stuffed and clogged across the country.
As a result, they soil the environs, dilute the environment, and create severe heath and environmental hazards.
The problem does not end there. India also suffers from the unorganized ways of municipal solid waste management and ineffective community collection, disposal, and transportation systems and networks in most of the Indian cities, towns, and villages. Slack or poor laws are another issue; for instance, there still remains a lot of confusion on whether the menstrual pads should be classified under dry waste or bio-medical waste. Most of the Indian sanitary workers are also not well-equipped to handle the waste.
SUSTAINABLE WAYS TO TACKLE MENSTRUAL SANITARY WASTE
The problem of menstrual sanitary waste can be tackled through sustainable ways like
- Usage of cloth pads during periods. They have been used for long when compared to disposable pads which have been around for only about 30 years. What makes cloth pads ideal is they do not contain plastics which mean about 300 plastic bags worth of plastic can be saved; and they can be used for three to five years. They are biodegradable as well, which means after they are used-up, the cloth can be recycled and later used for making new living things. A good example is Fabpad’s reusable cloth pads which are made with soft, breathable, and 100% biodegradable chemical-free materials and are also convenient to use and dispose off.
- Promoting the usage of cloth reusable pads among women and girls through awareness sessions. Every session should focus on how using them brings with it manifold benefits, how they can be used, and how they can be disposed of.
- Creating greater awareness about menstrual health and hygiene among adolescent girls and women. Too often, young girls grow-up with little or no knowledge of menstruation, and mothers and elder women in most cases are also not aware about the importance of periods or hygienic practices. As a result, the young girls grow-up with wrong notions or learn to treat the subject as a cultural taboo. Empowering young girls and women through proper education and increasing their role in decision-making will go a long way in spreading awareness. Fabpad, based out of Kolkata. It instills awareness among women about the benefits of using reusable cloth pads over traditional cloth or disposable products.
- Usage of incinerators incineration. They use combustion to make waste less harmful by sterilizing them, reduce waste volume, and convert waste into incombustible ash or harmless gases which can be easily disposed of by releasing them into the atmosphere after gas cleaning or emission measures. Likewise, the residue ash can be collected and disposed off in designated pits of controlled landfills, sans major risks. However, extreme care must be taken to make sure that incineration does not happen in unsafe conditions like improper segregation or poorly constructed incinerators with no emission control features and low burning temperatures.
- Deep burial pits and composting pits, designed as per established protocols like Solid Waste Rules or Bio-Medical Waste Rules, in an appropriate site for compositing, factoring in the soil quality and permeability, and distance from water sources or water tables. Then, before disposal in them, sanitary pads and other menstrual waste products must be properly segregated from other waste. Likewise, used sanitary pads may have to be properly processed further before they are buried in deep burial or compositing pit. Extreme care must be taken to protect the deep burial and compositing site from animals and rodents.
- Maintenance of deep burial and composting pits. They must be under the supervision of trained professionals with a monitoring system in place.
Sustainable ways to tackle menstrual sanitary waste is an environmentally-friendly alternative to the conventional process. Though a slow process, it is in the long run a worthy process. It will not only sustain the environment’s quality but also sustain the well-being and health of young girls and women. It is also economically feasible and beneficial that needs only one-time investment and can last for long, if the guidelines are properly adhered to.