This post has been written as a part of the Menstrual Hygiene Day which is today (May 28th)
I was in my class seven, when I first got my periods. I was in school. Though my father had talked me through it, I don’t think it struck my mind that I had periods. I went to my brother in the school bus and told him that I had a very bad case of loose motions. He cycled me home from the bus stop and told my mother as soon as she came back from school. And then I realised this is what my father meant by saying I would have my periods.
I have been lucky. A supportive father, a sweet brother and a wonderful mother, who did not treat periods as if it were a curse or something. Our family treated periods as a monthly matter of fact-ly event. In case, I wasn’t able to work or anything due to tummy ache, I was allowed to rest. But otherwise there were no restrictions at all. In any way.
Even now, a lot of people I know, use the word ‘monthly curse’, ‘woman’s problem’, ‘those three days of the month’ to describe a menstrual cycle!
But unfortunately this is not true in the millions of households in India. A girl’s periods are literally treated as a curse. Lot of restrictions of not touching this and that, separate bedding, separate utensils to eat, etc etc. While originally, our ancestors may have considered this separation as a way of letting the woman’s body rest during the menses, eventually it has become as if it is some kind of a curse. As if the woman is impure. As if there is a problem with the woman. Even now, a lot of people I know, use the word ‘monthly curse’, ‘woman’s problem’, ‘those three days of the month’ to describe a menstrual cycle!
One of the biggest problems which women face is maintaining hygiene while menstruating. My mother says, she used to use cotton and cloth when she was young. Two pieces of cloth and two underwears would make her go through half day of school. Sometimes stains would happen, but she had become a pro in covering up!
Today, we have a plethora of products to assist us when we get our periods – Sanitary napkins, tampons and menstrual cups. Among these, the safest to the environment are perhaps, menstrual cups which are re-usable. But they haven’t made a dent into the huge market share of sanitary napkins, because many women find it difficult to use these cups. The other disadvantage is that if the cups are not sanitised properly before use, they can lead to a lot of infections.
On the other hand, sanitary napkins are the largest used products globally during menstruation. But the biggest problem with these napkins is their disposal. We often don’t even bother to figure out what happens to these napkins after we wrap them in the newspaper and throw them out.
On an average, almost 85 to 90% of the sanitary napkin is made of petrochemicals/plastics which make them environmentally unfriendly!
Sanitary napkins (those commercially available and popular) contain a driweave top sheet, which is made up of polypropylene. The inner portion is a combination of cotton, wood pulp and SAP (superabsorbent polymers) which help to absorb large amount of fluids. The bottom layer is usually made leak proof by using a polyethylene layer. On an average, almost 85 to 90% of the sanitary napkin is made of petrochemicals/plastics which make them environmentally unfriendly! The disposal of these products is becoming a big issue across the globe.
Many people make the mistake of flushing down the sanitary napkins in the toilets. Its not only a problem in India, but across the globe. As per this article (opens a pdf) even advanced economies like USA and UK face this issue. The other two ways in which menstrual waste can be disposed is either landfilling (the waste is buried in land fills) or incineration (burning the waste).
Countries across the world are trying to find new environmental friendly ways to dispose of this waste. While incinerators are increasingly being used in India, it is definitely NOT environmental friendly. Incineration means that these products are burnt which releases a lot of toxins into the air as burning plastics always has been an issue. Additionally the chlorine bleach used by the manufacturers for white colour also releases toxic chlorine gas into the air. In short, perhaps incineration is not the right way to treat these products. I did a quick google search on methods to dispose menstrual waste and I came up mostly with sites which talk about incineration. Which means, that seems to be the most popular way to dispose menstrual waste!
What can we do?
- Use menstrual cups if its comfortable. A fellow blogger talks about how comfortable they are and do read the comments section of this link. I think, it’s just a matter of getting into practice. Read more about the menstrual cup here
- If using menstrual cups is tough, switch over to the cloth based sanitary napkins. There are cloth based sanitary napkins available which allow the re-use and washing of the napkins helping in reducing pollution
Here are few links I got on the net
The need of the hour is to find out low cost and effective ways to curb menstrual waste. While, commercial sanitary napkins are very comfortable, we should try and see if we switch over to low cost, cotton sanitary napkins doing our bit to save the environment.
On this Menstrual Hygiene Day, let us try and reduce the environmental impact of sanitary waste and move over the more environmental friendly options.
Featured image credit: http://menstrualhygieneday.org/