Sanitary Pads Take 500-800 Yrs to Decompose! What’s the Solution?
About 336 million girls and women experience menstruation in India, which means that approximately 121 million of them are using disposable sanitary napkins. This means, as pointed out by the Clean India journal, there are 432 million pads being generated annually in India, resulting in 9000 tones of sanitary waste. On World Environment Day, we are doing some number crunching for you.
The downer is that all sanitary pads are plastic-based and have a non-biodegradable content. This plastic component takes around 500-800 years to decompose. This means the sanitary pads we toss in the bin every month will hang around even after you and I are long gone.
If this wasn’t enough, medical experts have also voiced concern over possible pelvic infection due to repeated use of pads.
What Do the Numbers Say?
Brace yourself for lots of numbers coming your way.
- Around 48 percent rural women use sanitary napkin while in urban areas the percentage is around 77 percent. (National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2015-16 report)
- Recent data provided by Menstrual Health Alliance India states that menstrual waste collected across the country, primarily consisting of sanitary napkins which is disposed of as routine waste along with other household garbage, is 45 percent.
- Only 2,000 soiled napkins and blood-soaked cotton are disposed of after segregation into biodegradable and non-biodegradable components (Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules).
However, the Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998, says that items contaminated with blood and body fluids, including cotton, dressings, soiled plaster casts, lines and bedding, are bio-medical waste and should be incinerated, autoclaved or microwaved to destroy pathogens.
Challenges in Disposal of Sanitary Pads
The problem with incineration of sanitary pads is also manifold. Burning them produces toxic fumes of dioxine and phuron.
Also, the longer used pads are kept in the open and kept in contact with air, the more they are prone towards becoming pathogenic or capable of causing viral and bacterial infections.
Apart from the fact that it cannot be recycled, the exposed sanitary napkin poses grave health risks for the waste collector.
All the sanitation waste soon makes its way into our sewage systems, landfills and water bodies.
What is the Administration Doing About It?
In 2016, the Indian government introduced the Solid Waste Management (SWM) rules These rules makes it obligatory for the manufacturers, brand owners or marketing companies of sanitary napkins (and diapers) to provide a pouch or a wrapper for their safe disposal. However, the implementation of these rules still remain a hurdle.
Could Organic/Environment Friendly STs be the Answer?
There is another option, one of biodegradable napkins. Mostly produced by small-scale manufacturers or NGOs, these biodegradable sanitary pads are made using natural products like banana or jute fibre or even re-usable clothes.
An example of these manufacturers is Not Just a Piece of Cloth (NJPC), one of the first few organisations to introduce clean cloth pads in India. Saathi and EcoFemme are two other examples of groups making organic sanitary pads. These groups use items like organic cotton, banana, jute fibre and even clothes to make them.
There are several other alternatives to sanitary pads as well. These include menstrual cups which can be worn for up to 12 hours and last you for years, making it one of the most sustainable and environment friendly menstrual products.