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Sanitary Solutions & Waste Disposal

TailorThe disposal of sanitary napkins, though more a health and hygiene issue, gets complicated when the waste  is thrown away polluting the environment with its non-biodegradable content and inorganic components. However, eco-friendly pads and incineration could address some predominant problems. Vijayalakshmi Sridhar talks to hygiene advocates on alternatives and awareness of sanitary hygiene and waste disposal.

Sanitary napkin disposal is a worldwide problem. The impact is more pronounced in India because of the unorganized ways of municipal solid waste management and poor community collection, disposal and transportation networks in the cities and villages.

With an estimated potential of 9000 tonnes of sanitary waste (of 432 million pads) getting generated annually and more than 80% of this waste either getting flushed down the toilet or getting dumped in the landfill, India is facing a serious problem.


Jayashree-IndustriesIn an attempt to minimize the mounting sanitary waste at the landfills, the Government of India has installed incinerators, to begin with in educational institutions.  V. Ramachandran,  CEO-President, Glolifecare Equipments Pvt Ltd explains, “Incinerators reduce the sanitary waste to sterile ash in a matter of seconds and this can be used as manure or can be flushed down the toilet. Glolifecare machines are test certified by NABL accredited laboratories for all the components/ materials used and also for the emission levels.”

At this point, while incinerator emissions are being disputed, it is important to recognize the divide in the issue of hygiene. Women in remote rural areas in the country are still bogged by societal taboos and lack financial and emotional freedom to use and dispose off sanitary napkins. In an attempt to provide such women with affordable and ecofriendly sanitary napkins, a few manufacturers have emerged in the last few years.

Pad-making Machine

Arunachalam Muruganantham, Founder and CEO, Jayashree Industries, set out with the mission of devising a machine to manufacture eco-friendly pads, when his wife refrained from using hygienic disposable pads, because it would require cutting down household expenses. Today, Jayashree Industries gives away eco-friendly pad-making machines to women in the poor and underdeveloped villages. Muruganantham plans to keep the business motive away and create a fresh market for sanitary pads. The women who manufacture the pads sell them too. Speaking of the disposal of these pads, Muruganantham says, “The pads can be buried after use.”

With an estimated potential of 9000 tonnes of sanitary waste (of 432 million pads) getting generated annually and more than 80% of this waste either getting flushed down the toilet or getting dumped in the landfill, India is facing a serious problem.

Jaydeep-Mandal--Aakar-Innovations-LtdJaydeep Mandal, Founder and Managing Director, Aakar Innovations Ltd, manufacturers of low-cost and compostable sanitary Anandi pads, which are being used by some school girls and slum women in South India. “These pads use virgin wood pulp sheets which do not contain any Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP); thus, there is no risk of carcinogenic harmful effects or life long complications. The compostable and non-woven upper layer along with bio plastic helps the liquid to stay in the napkin. Even the packaging is compostable,” says Jaydeep.

Anandi pads are sold through various channels in the villages. The Government and some corporates too buy these pads. “As part of our pilot programme, we are selling Anandi pads to urban consumers too. We are not retailing it through shops.”

Cloth pads

Creating-AwarenessUnless pads are disposed off the right way, it will neither get buried or composted and probably get dumped in the landfill. Do such pads actually address the disposal problem or sanitary waste issue?

Kathy Walkling, Founder, Eco femme, a women-led social enterprise, manufactures washable cloth pads as an alternative to disposable pads.

“Essentially a single cloth washable pad (that lasts 75 washes) equivalent to 75 single use and throw disposable sanitary napkins. Cloth pads prevent significant amounts of waste. Made from natural materials, they are healthier when cared for properly and they save money as well,” Kathy explains.

Creating Awareness

Jessamijn&Kathy-Walkling--Eco-femmeIn the long run, hygiene and sustainability is posible through education. Sanitary hygiene education is still a novel term in India, has to aim at creating awareness at the grassroots level both in terms of use & disposal and also about the hazards of careless disposal of pads. Local and global ambassadors, celebrities, NGOs have to strive to leverage the step and take the message to the cross section of women.

“Many women are engaged in demonstration and the teaching and learning happens through a woman-to-woman chain,” Muruganantham elaborates.

Essentially a single cloth washable pad (that lasts 75 washes) represents the equivalent of 75 single use and throw disposable sanitary napkins being burned or tossed.

“It should be a municipal activity where administrative outfits, corporate bodies and independent institutions join hands to municipal-activitybring about a solution. Sanitary waste disposers should become a part and parcel of each residence and building,” Ramachandran shares his view.

Eco Femme believes in an inclusive approach. “Our goal is not to ‘break’ any taboos. We strive to engage with the cultural practices, acknowledging that they have been in place for centuries and that they are often part of the glue that binds a community together, and they often hold a lot of meaning for those who follow them. In these conversations, we hope to deconstruct ingrained cultural conditioning and empower women as change agents, by providing information and ways for them to reconnect to their embodied knowledge and voice. We work closely with our implementation partners and organisations who order non-commercial pads to make sure we are able to best meet the needs of their specific community and nurture a network of global ambassadors who help spread the message about the hazards of disposable menstrual products and the merits of trying alternatives like cloth pads and menstrual cups.”

ImageWhile there are innovative and ecofriendly solutions for feminine hygiene surfacing, be it cloth or pads, when it comes to disposal, it is still an issue unless the disposal process is strictly monitored. Otherwise, all these ecofriendly solutions will get dumped like any other garbage.

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