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Green alternatives to Bloody Plastics – the saga of sanitary napkins

New Delhi, March 5 (G’nY news service): The modern sanitary napkins are made of plastic and a potentially toxic chemical-dioxin that can cause scores of diseases in the individual from intermittent rashes to even cancer. The government has turned a blind eye towards this problem. Moreover, the problem is taking a toxic turn with used napkins being buried amongst the household wastes and thrown into small water bodies. We need a concerted effort to deal with it in totality and there are alternatives that would lead India out of the downward spiral of plastic usage. The stories below highlight how India can use incinerable products that do not harm environment and at the same time is safe for the individual as it is organic.

Gandhigram Trust

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. “We are working on developing biodegradable napkins, but their cost is working out to be between Rs 10 and 15, which is unaffordable for poor women,” said Revathy.

With annual sales of about Rs 3 lakh, the Trusts’ napkins 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 since 2011. Made of wood pulp and non woven fabric the regular napkin is sold at Rs 2 a piece. In addition to being affordable, the product is also environment friendly and incinerable. “We have been able to convince girls to switch from rags to these napkins, and I believe there has been a 30 to 40 per cent increase in the use of the napkins we produce.”

Training is also imparted to school students who then prepare and package the sanitary napkins. Mahapatra said that they are trying to modify the machines to improve the quality of the napkins, so that they can be used for a longer duration. 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

Both these organizations have not tried to achieve large scale production, as they do not see these ventures as a business. Mahapatra believes that the marketing strategy of the environment friendly napkins needs to be changed to reach more women. This might also encourage the two multinational companies – Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson – to start producing their own version of reusable or biodegradable napkins. Not only could the napkins prove to be a healthier alternative to the regular plastic napkins, they will also reduce the pressure on the waste disposal system.

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