The use of sanitary napkins involves health and human risks and as the vulvar skin and vaginal mucosa are highly porous, residual pesticides, toxic chemicals, irritants, and carcinogens are easily absorbed into the circulatory system of women, damaging their endocrine and reproductive systems (Gao & Kannan, 2020). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other institutions believe that furan, which is found in pesticides sprayed on inorganically grown cotton farms, is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”. A sanitary napkin also contains super absorbent polymers (SAPs) known to cause precocious puberty, endometriosis, female genital tumours, ovulation disorders, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The use of other plasticizing compounds such as bisphenol A (BPA) and bisphenol S (BPS) has been related to heart disease and cancer (Mercola, 2013). Assessment of menstrual hygiene products is hence imperative owing to their many potentially harmful effects.
Also, using disposable sanitary pads for more than 4-6 hours involves medical risks like urinary tract infections, cervical cancer, and interference with embryonic development which makes the risk assessment necessary as women wear these pads for around a week each month throughout their reproductive years and due to various reasons including trying to minimise cost per cycle, use these for long hours without changing four times a day (Development Solutions & Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council [WSSCC], 2018).
Inappropriately wrapped or marked waste poses a health risk to those who collect and sort it (Source: MHM Product Landscape in India).
A woman has 459 menstrual cycles on average during her lifetime. One-quarter of India’s 336 million menstruating women use disposable sanitary products, which equates to about 121 million women, according to the Menstrual Hygiene Alliance of India (MHAI). Disposable sanitary pads are made of 90% plastic. When you consider the adhesives, packaging, and other materials that go into disposable sanitary pads, each pad is equivalent to around four plastic bags. With an 8-pad per cycle estimate, it equates to roughly 12 billion pads disposed of per year. Every year, the average woman disposes of approximately 150 kilograms of non-biodegradable waste. In India, the use of non-biodegradable sanitary napkins is increasing due to changing demographics and preferences.
Green menstruation is when women utilize biodegradable period hygiene products that are also environmentally friendly. Menstrual cups, organic cotton-based pads, reusable cloth pads, and period panties are among the items available today. These solutions are not only environmentally sustainable but also cost-effective and beneficial to women’s reproductive and vaginal health.
Cost Comparision between Sanitary Products
Although alternative sustainable products may appear to be more expensive in the short term, it is possible to examine how the options compare in the long run, that is, over 30 years of complete menstruation. So, while environmentally safer goods are more expensive than typical non-biodegradable pads, they provide higher long-term benefits.
Taboos & Myths Related to Green Menstruation:
The taboo attached to menstrual cups stems from our patriarchal society’s belief that putting something inside a vagina before marriage is highly wrong. The thought of a woman being “impure” before marriage shatters the archaic attitudes of the vast majority of Indians. Although this should not be the case, in India, the usage of menstrual cups is linked to the delicate thread that connects femininity and purity, making constructive dialogues about menstruation impossible. Sustainable products are believed to be a waste of money but it is only due to people being misinformed as shown by the cost comparisons. As Simran, a Bangalore resident said “At first the cup just lay in my cupboard for a while because I couldn’t quite figure out how to use it, and quite frankly it was a little scary, but, once I overcame the initial discomfort there was no going back.” The problem is a lack of understanding among women, who would gain the most from this alternative. Menstrual cups necessitate access to clean facilities and appropriate hygiene, which are only available to those who can afford these.
Adopting & Implementing Green Menstruation:
Green the Red, a team of healthcare professionals and environmental activists, established the ‘Cup and Cloth campaign,’ which urges women to choose environmentally friendly menstrual products. The campaign brings some alarming facts to attention.
“The youth is ready for it. One just has to convince them and give them a chance,” explains Anju and Dr Meenakshi, a gynaecologist and environmental activist, says “Women need to speak to each other to spread the message of the wonderful comfort that the cloth pads and menstrual cups provide.”
Kamakhya is a Udaipur-based initiative founded by Laad Lohar, an Adivasi lady. She spends her free time making cloth pads and travelling from village to village teaching other Adivasi or impoverished women how to make them. This napkin is environmentally sustainable, according to Laad, because it is made of fabric and can be cleaned and reused several times.
Increased demand for a variety of products, including sustainable alternatives, is likely to encourage market participants to improve their availability and accessibility.
Breaking the taboo surrounding menstruation is essential for achieving “period equity,” or the ability of every woman in every situation, pandemic or not, to manage her periods hygienically and sustainably.
Policies should be curated to emphasize the strict implementation of menstrual hygiene programs in both urban and rural regions, as well as access to menstrual goods, particularly in rural areas, manufacturers’ expanded responsibility, and environmentally safe pilot technologies.
“Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.” – Dolores Huerta
Investing in such products proves to help work towards a greener future. Now is the time for the unstoppable courage to preserve & protect our health, and environment. Together we must invest in our planet because a green future is a prosperous future.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies
Title image courtesy: Super Savvy Me
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