By- Rudrakshi Shetty,
3rd year MBBS, Northern State Medical University
Did you know that a single woman can generate up to 125 kg of non-biodegradable waste in her menstruating years alone? Knowing that there are 355 million menstruating women in India out of which about 121 million use disposables, it leads to 12.3 billion disposable sanitary pads every year. A regular pad takes 500-800 years to decompose which means that every pad produced on Earth is still on Earth! This results in an incredibly high footprint and is therefore an issue that requires serious consideration and immediate action.
In our country, we have certain set of rules for proper disposal of sanitary wastes like sanitary pads are supposed to be discarded with other dry waste or thrown away separately, manufacturers are supposed to fund local authorities to ensure proper segregation and waste management, manufacturers are also expected to set up collecting systems to recycle the packaging waste but on ground, all these “rules” are rarely ever followed. Efforts are being made by introducing the use of incinerators but the effect of its emissions are yet to be addressed. Keeping the adverse environmental effects aside, pads are made of Super Absorbent Polymer and Polyethylene which cause irritation leading to itchiness and discomfort. Not only this, they’re also lined by bleach and various fragrances to make the product seem more appealing leading to even more chemicals which are going to be in direct contact with our body for days.
So if not pads then what? Anything and everything that can be reused for eg. Menstrual cups, cloth pads, period panties, menstrual discs, etc. Among these, menstrual cups are one of the most convenient, affordable and environmentally friendly options out there. They are about 5 cm in length and are supposed to be inserted inside the vagina. It collects the blood while creating a suction and then it is to be periodically removed, emptied, washed and re-inserted back throughout the cycle. These cups are made from medical grade silicone which is inert i.e. doesn’t react with the body and therefore can be used for 8-10 hours depending on the flow without the risk of developing Toxic Shock Syndrome or any other vaginal infections. A cup costs about 300 rupees which can be used for 5-10 years whereas one spends around 30k on disposables in the same span of time. Learning to use it may take some time but it’ll be the most comfortable option once you have a knack of it. A common concern with menstrual cups is that since it is to be inserted, many women wouldn’t be as comfortable. In that case, one can switch to washable cloth pads since they’re just like regular pads except they’re reusable. We know that all this while, women were convinced to go from cloth pads to “healthy sanitary” pads but cloth pads when used correctly are a much healthier option compared to plastic laden sanitary pads. Menstrual discs are similar to cups except they use gravity instead of suction to sit at the base of the cervix.
When one starts learning about the multitude of options available in the market, it can be very confusing and overwhelming to understand what’s best for you and your body. As future healthcare professionals, it is our duty to educate the patient regarding the pros and cons of all the products as this will lead to informed choices on their end and as consumers, we can try our best to choose products that suit our lifestyle the most whilst being a little considerate about the environment cause every step towards sustainability counts!