Why we need to switch to sustainable menstruation

By: Dr. Shantala Bhole

Plastic has invaded almost all aspects of our life. It does not decompose, and when burnt it releases toxins into the air.

Did you know? Disposable Sanitary pads produce a large amount of plastic waste. The average woman has around 400 periods in a lifetime. There are more than a billion women of reproductive age worldwide. If each woman uses disposable sanitary pads just imagine the tons of waste that will be generated.

Image by  PatriciaMoraleda 

We may not realize it but disposable sanitary pads contain large amounts of plastic-like polyolefin, polyethylene, and polypropylene. They also contain chemicals like styrene, acetone, dioxin, etc. Disposable pads take almost 500-800 years to decompose, and they are nonrecyclable.

Used pads fill landfills, animals can get sick after eating them. Incineration
and burning are costly and increases air pollution. They also clog drains and pipes and pose a health hazard to sanitary workers. They contribute to the garbage in our oceans and beaches.

According to data, about 113,000 tonnes of menstrual waste is generated annually in our country. Choosing alternative options will help in protecting ourselves and our surroundings. The modern woman looks for options that are affordable, user friendly, convenient and comfortable.

Let’s add sustainable menstruation to this list.

Biodegradable pads: Bio-degradable pads are made of different materials like organic cotton, corn, cassava, sugarcane, bamboo fiber, etc. These pads are rash free, highly absorbent, odor-free, anti-bacterial, and comfortable. They come with separate biodegradable pouches. Especially women who have suffered due to allergies and recurrent UTI are truly satisfied with organic pads. They cost almost the same as disposable pads. Please remember that even organic pads start decomposing after 6 months.

Reusable cloth pads. Cloth has always been used in our country for ages. In fact, most women in rural India still use cloth during their periods. I remember that my grandma, my mom, and aunts would cut out pieces of used cloth from saris to make pads.

But these had certain issues like leakage; discomfort also there was the stigma of washing and drying them in the open. Today we have a wide range of cloth pads available. They are made of absorbent fabric and can be rinsed then put in the washing machine after use. They come in a variety of patterns and designs as well as different absorbencies. They are available in
rectangular and square shapes. As they don’t look like pads, you don’t have to hide them while drying. A set of cloth pads can cost 800-1200 rest and last for 2 yrs. There are also many tutorials on making your own cloth pads at home.

Period panties: These are absorbent underwear made from multiple layers of cloth.  The first layer is absorbent; the second layer is water-proof thus avoiding leakage. The third layer is cotton, which is responsible for providing optimum comfort to the wearer. All materials used for designing a period panty are breathable, leakproof, and comfortable. It is claimed that each pant will retain up to four tampons worth of blood.

Menstrual cups: Menstrual cups are made of medical-grade silicone. They are available in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors, and capacities. The cup has to be inserted into the vagina. Rather than absorbing blood like pads, the cup collects it and it has to be emptied & then reinserted after washing with water. Initially, women may need some practice and guidance for insertion and removal. Some of the benefits include extremely soft medical grade silicone making it very comfortable. There is freedom from washing, drying, etc. Chances of reactions, rash, and infections are less. Though the cost of one cup ranges from 500-1000 rs, it can last for 5-7 yrs, hence it’s economical. Silicone in the cup is recyclable hence we can
attribute it to zero waste.

MENSTRUAL DISC: It is made of medical-grade polymer and super absorbent. It is supposed to be inserted into the vaginal fornix and lasts for up to 12 hours. Please note that the disc is not reusable, but produces less waste than tampons and pads.

Free-bleeding: May not be for everyone, but certainly reduces plastic usage. Free- bleeding is where no products are used to absorb or collect menstrual blood. The free-bleeding movement has been more of a political statement, with women trying to increase awareness about periods being normal and not disgusting or dirty. We have to accept alternatives to conventional menstrual products. Once educated I am sure women will become users and then campaigners for these products. But it is important that big multinationals and the government join this moment for it to become the new normal. Friends let us all try and work towards a healthy you and a healthy world.

Dr. Shantala Bhole

Dr. Shantala Bhole

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