As the world is coming together to combat plastic pollution, there is still so much to be done to even be aware and acknowledge the impact of some products that have become an indispensable part of our lives. For example, we are yet to wake up to the eco-disaster of the disposable sanitary pads, while start-ups and NGOs are finding it hard to make an impact with alternatives.
To create awareness on sustainable menstruation, Goli Soda, an upscale store in Chennai selling recycled and upcycled products hosted a panel to talk about the impact of waste created by conventional sanitary napkins and affordable, eco-positive & healthy alternatives that are available. The event titled “We need to change things… Period” had gynaecologist Dr. Gita Arjun, Kavya Menon of Eco Femme – a social enterprise selling environment-friendly sanitary napkins, dancer and entrepreneur Kavya Abraham, and mother-daughter duo Rajee and Sneha as panelists.
Kavya Menon shared the environmental impact of sanitary napkins and on the need to shift to alternatives. “Disposable pads are made of plastic and bleached cotton. These pads take 500 to 800 years to decompose. The average woman uses 10000 to 12000 sanitary pads in her lifetime.”
It’s simple math that will give you an idea of the humongous amount of menstrual waste or pads around us, choking the environment.
Dr. Gita Arjun said, “The government has an important role to play in educating and first getting educated on the alternatives. We need to sensitise women, especially young girls and only education can make a difference.” She also spoke about how periods is still a taboo subject, and while we have progressed to some extent recently on opening up on the topic of menstruation, a lot remains to be done still.
Rajee and Sneha, the mother-daughter duo, shared their experience on switching to healthy alternatives which are environment friendly. The change has to begin at the family, and the men in the family also need to be a part of the discussion.
Dance Entrepreneur Kavya Abraham talked about the comfort of cloth pads and menstrual cups. Menstrual cups are medical grade silicon cups that are fitted inside the vagina. The cup collects the menstrual blood that can be poured out after few hours and replaced back.
Some women might mentally have the resistance to shift to menstrual cups as they have to deal with touching the vagina in addition to the fear of losing their virginity or getting the cup too far in themselves. They can opt for cloth pads. Women who have shifted to this alternative vouch for the hygiene factor. Washing the cloth pad need not be gruesome activity, all it requires is for the cloth pad to be soaked in clean water overnight, and the washing can be as easy as for any other cloth. Each cloth pad can last around 75 washes.
“Being an active person, a dancer and an athlete I have never felt any discomfort in using these,” said Kavya Abraham, adding that once you make the shift, it is nearly impossible to get back to using disposable napkins.
It was heartening to see a few men also being part of the event and actively ask questions to the panelists.
Kavya Menon has been conducting awareness sessions at schools and colleges on sustainable menstruation. Along with a team of volunteers, she has till date reached over 200 schools across Chennai & parts of rural Tamil Nadu and finds convincing schools for a session quite challenging. She says, “there is an openness to accept and around 50% of women/young girls have adapted to the change post our sessions. What we look forward to is opportunities to do more such sessions and we only hope that institutions will be more forthcoming and allow us to create this awareness.”
Goli Soda on an average has been selling around 1300 cloth pads per month. “We sell all over India but see a lot of enquiries coming from the south of India,” says Sruti Hari, founder, Goli Soda Store.
Why is the shift so important?
As per the Solid Waste Department of Chennai Corporation, every day around 5400 MT 0f waste is collected at Chennai. 68% of the waste comes from residences which includes the sanitary pads which have no separate mechanism for disposal. The disposable pads that are made of plastic when not disposed properly pose a huge threat. When dioxins in pads leach into soil, water or air due to incineration or landfilling, it produces a toxic effect. Synthetic pulp again contains lots of non-biodegradable polymers which is an environmental hazard.
Right from manufacturing to disposal and even later at every stage when these layers and the chemicals in it get transferred between soil, water and air and do not degrade, they naturally enter our food-chain. Commercial sanitary napkins contain chemicals like acetone and styrene, which can increase the incidence of menstrual cramps and women who have shifted to alternate say there is no rashes. So there is a compelling reason why women need to go green when they bleed.
What is heart warming is that more and more women are slowly but steadily adopting the change. Arul Priya of Nammabhoomi, who has also been actively working in this space to create, awareness says, “Women today have become aware of the alternatives. They see and hear about it from online forums on cloth pads and menstrual caps but are reluctant due to fear and hygiene factor.”
In the last six months, Arul Priya has reached the message to around 700 people in Chennai, around 500 of them in schools. She has already sold over 150 menstrual cups in Chennai alone, and clearly sees the shift happening though it is yet to pick up pace.