Time to revisit old ways of dealing with monthly woes

Capstone Environment Videos Women

Pads are disastrous for the environment, time for cloth to make a comeback. 

Bengaluru: ‘That time of the month.’ You’ve just opened your cupboard taken a pad out of a blue packet. A newspaper in the other, you got to the washroom (you know the routine). In the final step, you toss the blood-soaked pad wrapped in a newspaper in the dustbin. Then what?

Pads are the most commonly used product for menstrual management. Women who use cloth are looked down upon in society. We carry the notion that pads are the most hygienic option today and that cloth pieces are ancient. However, pads are a threat to our environment and in full circle dangerous to our lives too. Pads in the market available for rupees 35 are non-biodegradable and would take at least 500 years to decompose. 

Till today there are no statistics or research studies on how many women know how to dispose of commercial pads. Pads fall under the bio-medical waste category and are classified as reject waste. Ideally, these items should be collected separately and incinerated as per Solid Waste Management Rules 2016.

The rules state that waste should be segregated at the source level in three broad categories, dry, wet, and reject or sanitary waste. Yet most of the households classify them only in two categories. Environment portal Down to Earth estimated that 432 million pads are disposed of every month.

Over the last twenty years, the sanitary pad industry has seen fast progress. As a society, we have gone from bulky cloth, grass, ash, and mud to pads. But, there is an immediate need to relook at these alternatives. Cloth can still be a viable option. Numerous NGOs are running initiatives about creating awareness in rural areas on using cloth pieces the right way. Campaigns such as “going back to cloth,” “eco-friendly periods” have caught momentum. 

While there is no denying that using cloth can lead to severe infections and sometimes diseases that last a lifetime, the shortcomings of cloth pieces stem from the way women used them. Gynecologists say any cloth used for menstruation should be cleaned and soaked in the sun so that no bacteria grows on it. But in India menstruation is considered an unholy subject and hence there was the birth of a whole new pad industry.

The government doesn’t fail to introduce empowerment initiatives such as free pad schemes or one rupee pads, every-time it wants to woo the women community. None of these pads distributed are biodegradable and they do not come with a description on them about disposable. Such pads are made of 90 percent plastic and are hazardous to the environment. 

Instead of looking down on pads, we should take a look at the environmental disaster the pad industry and women are creating alike. Making periods sustainable is the only way forward and it starts with every single of us. 

Illustration by Padmini Dhurvaraj


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