A Beginner's Guide to Sustainable Menstruation

What pops up in your mind when you hear or read plastic pollution? Chances are a polythene bag or a plastic bottle. Anything else? Maybe plastic wrappers, straws, and cutlery. But did you picture menstrual waste? I doubt it.

Menstrual waste is an insidious landfill contributor. This is because most Indian women use regular sanitary napkins which contain 90% plastic. And thus, these pads take 500 to 800 years to decompose. Needless to say, we need to encourage sustainable menstruation.

Sadly, we Indians are yet to normalize periods and lower the stigma around it, let alone discuss sustainable menstruation.

But, is Menstrual Waste a big deal?

To know the answer, let’s dig a little deeper by understanding the following math –
 
According to a study by Menstrual Health Alliance India, out of the 336 Million menstruating women, only 36% (121 Million) use sanitary napkins.
Assuming that a woman uses 8 pads per period cycle,
121 Million x 8 = 1 Billion (approx.) pads per month = 12 Billion pads per year!
 
But does a common city-dwelling woman only use 8 pads? If I was to speak for myself, 8 sanitary napkins are not enough. Plus, an average woman uses around 10,000 pads in her lifetime. These statistics need our attention. 

The issue gets even more worrying when the waste is not handled with proper measures. You may or may not be using an eco-friendly napkin, but the one you do use, do you discard it the right way? Or do you simply roll it in a newspaper/ pad cover and throw it along with the household waste?

The right way to discard a sanitary napkin is to not merge it with the regular household waste. Try using a separate paper bag. This eases the job of waste pickers when they segregate the trash we discard. And, also prevent them and scavenging animals from getting exposed to diseases that might be lingering on the menstrual bloodThe waste pads are often sent for incineration along with other bio-medical waste. 
 
Of course, when you are in a public washroom, it may not be possible to discard the right way. But, we should do the needful whenever we can.

Now I know that the extent of menstrual waste is lower as compared to other single-use plastics. However, the monthly disposal of 1 billion non-biodegradable pads makes it a BIG DEAL.

So the question arises - Is Sustainable Menstruation Possible?

We can make our periods sustainable if we decide to make a responsible choice. The non-compostable, non-biodegradable pads are popular because of their cheap and easy availability. The cost of production is less which facilitates mass generation. But we need to see beyond them. It’s time we choose quality over quantity and support the circular model of the economy.

If you make an effort to research, you will find that India has a bunch of thoughtful, learned groups of communities. The ones that produce eco products and promote sustainable menstruation. Today, I want to highlight one such community – Sparkle. 

Being a woman myself, I can understand how rewarding it feels to have a comfortable period. And it’s a fact that the “comfort” is more or less, due to the pad we use. Which is why a sudden switch to a new brand seems doubtful. 
 
And when talking about sustainable menstruation, cloth pads or menstrual cups are the perfect choices. They compliment the zero-waste policy.
sustainable-menstruation-cloth-pads-menstrual-cups
But, if you’re a beginner (like I am), and are unsure of cloth pads or menstrual cups, an investment in biodegradable pads will be a good choice.
 
Found by Chirag Virani and his wife Hetal, Sparkle is a conscious brand producing biodegradable pads. Unlike the conventional plastic infused pads, Sparkle creates pads out of agro-waste. The raw materials they use are Bamboo and Banana fibers and use bioplastics made with Corn starch
Eco-friendly-pads-made-with-bamboo-banana-fibers-corn-starch-bioplastic
These ingredients are top-notch efficient as,
✔️ Bamboo fiber is anti-bacterial and hypoallergenic which means no allergies, no irritation.
 
✔️Banana fiber acts as a super absorbent and helps in arresting the menstrual fluid.
 
(After harvesting, farmers tend to burn the banana plant stems. You can imagine the pollution. Thus, their use in pads not only benefits the environment and women but also provides extra income to the farmers)
 
✔️The corn starch bioplastic, on the other hand, helps in avoiding leakage.
This eco-creativity is significant because these pads degrade in 140 days! So to answer the question, yes, Sustainable Menstruation is possible.
Sparkle’s effort in maintaining a circular economy is, without a doubt, praiseworthy. What makes them even more exceptional is their humanitarian side.

What impressed me - Buy One, Give One

It’s no secret that Indians still hold certain myths and stereotypes when it comes to menstruation. There’s also a huge number of females who have to compromise their basic needs just because of periods. It is clear that such problems exist due to a shortage of awareness.

About 23 million of girls in India drop out of school once they reach puberty. Some choose to take leave during periods. This is due to the unavailability of sanitary requirements. It goes without saying that the age-old menstrual stigma also encourages this move.

With an aim to do something about this issue, Sparkle introduced the initiative – Buy One, Give One.

Under the initiative, with each sale, the team donates pads to underprivileged girls and women. Sparkle works in collaboration with NGOs. They carry out workshops to educate rural women about menstrual hygiene, sustainable menstruation and distribute the necessary supplements. Staying true to their promise for human welfare, Sparkle has also donated around 1,00,000 sanitary napkins to the migrant workers during this pandemic

Conclusion

  • Switching to a different brand from the regular one may seem stressful. But once you give it a try, you will realize that it is easy.
  • The fact that sanitary requirements can disrupt our ecosystems should bother us; and, we must consider menstrual waste as a major dilemma.
  • Discard your sanitary waste with right precautions. 

A huge shout out to similar brands such as Saathi, Carmesi, Heyday, Purganics, The Woman’s Company, etc. that are creating eco-friendly options for us. 

Let’s choose what is good for both, ourselves and our environment.

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