The modern sanitary pads being primarily plastics, clog up drainage and incinerating it leads to noxious air pollutants. Putting the used napkins in landfills adds toxins to the soil and groundwater. Without an environmentally safe disposable product, the spread of sanitary napkin usage would exacerbate the piling garbage at ground zero.
The Indian Government has been promoting better hygiene amongst the user but has turned a blind eye towards disposal of the used sanitary napkins. In a country like India where littering is a birthright, disposable pads end up along village roadsides buried amongst the household refuse and cow dung, or thrown into small dirty ponds that abound the peri-urban commons. In the cities the garbage collecting agencies have a rough time trying to segregate this hazardous waste. We do have a polluters’ pay policy in place—yet the companies are never ever hauled up for not being responsible for the environmental damage that their products may be causing. And, neither do the policy makers take notice of the huge quantities of unhygienic waste being spewed daily.
Plastic Sanitary Napkins
Very few people know what’s inside a sanitary napkin or a tampon, or for that matter a diaper. A potentially toxic chemical-dioxin (by product of a chlorine bleaching process), gamut of polymers and plastics, wood pulp, and fragrances are the few things that constitute a slim and ultra modern sanitary napkin. It is high time that we know what is exactly inside a sanitary napkin. Disclosing what’s in the product and its proportion should be made mandatory on each pack of sanitary napkins sold, not in microscopic print but in large letters, as companies must be accountable for what they manufacture.
QUANTUM OF DISPOSED NAPKINS
There are about 310 million women in the reproductive age group who are potential users of sanitary pads. According to estimates a woman is likely to use an average of 8000 to 10,000 pieces of sanitary napkins within the 30-40 years of her menstrual life time. In effect therefore, 10 million pads may be disposed every hour across the country in the years to come with the aggressive penetration of disposable pads.
The above are excerpts from the article ‘Bloody Plastics’ that was published in the Vol 13 Issue 78 of G‘nY. We are carrying the debate a little further, as we have received an astounding number of responses from readers all over the nation. G‘nY presents to you alternatives that could, if taken seriously, lead India out of the downward spiral of increasing use of plastic, irresponsible industry and ever burgeoning burden of disposed napkins. Of the many that are engaged in the production of alternatives we are showcasing three organisations that need the fillip to make it to the next level of production. India, where purchasing power is low and hygiene is not on the priority list, the need for clean and safe sanitary napkins is a must. However, without an environmentally safe disposable product, the spread of sanitary napkin usage would exacerbate the piling garbage at ground zero. The three stories that we have highlighted have incinerable products that can be easily destroyed after use.
R Revathy has been heading the sanitary napkin project for the NGO for the last 13 years under the technical guidance of Rural Technology Action Group (RuTAG) of the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai and Textile Department, Kumaraguru College of Technology, Coimbatore. The product, Relax, is priced at Rs 27 for a pack. With an annual sales of about Rs 3 lakh, the product needs a push to get into the next rung wherein it can be available at primary health centres all over the country apart from all rural shops. At present, this environment-friendly technology is being transferred to villages to benefit a large cross section of women. Ten self help group (SHG) members were given skill training in three stages at Neiyatinkara(Kerala); Thirunelveli; and Centre for Rural Industrialisation, Ranchi, by the NGO which yielded positive results. So far 785 SHG members from all over India have become micro entrepreneurs. During 2008-09 the Gandhigram Trust facilitated the establishment of production units under Department of Science and Technology at Uttarkashi, Guwahati, Balia, Chennai, Coorg, Kohima, Thanjavur, Bangalore and New Delhi. www.gandhigram.org
Sulabh School Sanitation Club
Rupak Roy Choudhury and Samiksha Das Mahapatra are heading the sanitary napkin project for the NGO, which has been working in this sector for the last two years. Made of wood pulp and non woven fabric the regular napkins is sold at Rs 2 a piece. At the same time the product is also environment friendly and incinerable. The NGO feels that the use of automatic machines can help in improving the product and assist local women to get a viable earning opportunity at the village level. Training is also imparted to school students who then prepare and package the sanitary napkins. The Sulabh School Sanitation Club is also engaged in promoting good hygiene through the use of environment friendly sanitary napkins in slums of Sanjay Gandhi Camp and Anant Ram Dairy in New Delhi. About 120 girls and 30 boys underwent such sessions conducted with the support of the local communities. www.sulabhschoolsanitationclub.org
The founders, Jaydeep Mandal and Sombodhi Ghosh have developed a low-cost sanitary napkin manufacturing machine that produces fibre based pads. The napkins are fully biodegradable in compostable conditions, solving the problem of disposal and ensuring minimal damage to the environment. The interesting part is that the absorbent material for the sanitary pads is produced using locally available agricultural and plant waste such as banana fibre, bagasse, bamboo and water hyacinth. Manufactured by women SHGs and sold at Rs 2 per napkin, these are UV sterilised and adhere to the Bureau of Indian Standards. www.aakarinnovations.com
Not only are various organisations engaged in the making of low cost incinerable sanitary napkins, there are also several that forge low cost machinery for sanitary napkin production and disposal. We need a concerted effort in putting together all the stakeholders on a single platform to deal with the problem in totality and graduate from catering to just the health of the individual to the bigger picture—the health of the nation.