Menstrual Hygiene and Environmentalism – The Shillong Times

By Dr Amodita Ahuja

“I go out into nature to be soothed and healed and to put my senses in order,” said John Burroughs. Over the last few centuries, instead of living with nature, man has tried to conquer it, which is probably the price we are paying today. Be it a deadly pandemic, devastating cyclones, destructive landslides, volcanoes, earthquakes and so on. The “Earth is bleeding”. It’s time to put the brakes on and find ways to live with nature.
In India, with the coverage of social media, NGOs working to help people with menstrual hygiene, and Bollywood celebrities talking about menstruation, there is a lot of awareness about menstrual hygiene and its products. With this, the consumption of plastic sanitary napkins also increased by almost 8 times.
If we look at the facts, between the average woman’s first cycle and menopause, you can expect around 450 periods. During those 450 periods, the average woman uses between 12,000 and 15,000 pads, tampons and panty liners, according to the Rochester Institute of Technology report. One sanitary napkin contains the plastic equivalent of five plastic bags, so a woman uses menstrual hygiene products equivalent to 60,000 to 75,000 plastic bags. In addition, a sanitary napkin takes up to 500 to 800 years to decompose. And remember that these statistics exclude the plastic packaging of sanitary napkins and tampons and the plastic applicator of tampons.
Considering these statistics and considering that there are 355 million menstrual periods in India, two thirds of which use tampons and pads, women throw away nearly 12 billion sanitary pads per year.
If we bury them they will not degrade and will add to the plastic load of the earth in landfills and oceans and if we burn them they release toxic carcinogenic chemicals like furans and dioxins.
In this race for better and better achievement, we have unconsciously caused significant damage to the earth. It’s time we started working towards a world where everyone has access to sustainable menstrual hygiene products or I would say “green menstruation”.
Green menstruation is the term used when women use biodegradable menstrual hygiene products that are green because they are environmentally friendly.
Products include menstrual cups, organic cotton pads, reusable cloth pads and period panties. These options are not only environmentally friendly, but also pocket-friendly and very good for women’s vaginal and reproductive health.
Ideal for pockets because instead of 10 sanitary napkins per period, they have to buy 1 menstrual cup or 5 reusable cotton or cloth napkins for almost 12 periods.
Respectful of vaginal and reproductive health because their use decreases the incidence of skin rashes, vaginal infections and greatly decreases the incidence of new age problems such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, cervical cancer. These problems are due to the harmful chemicals in the plastic tampons i.e. dioxins and furans. And obviously environmentally friendly because these durable products only produce 0.6% of waste compared to single-use plastic tampons.
We need to rethink the education of the period. Thanks to Bollywood and celebrities talking about menstruation, there is a perfect storm of cultural change. Women are ready to talk about rules and a massive campaign to protect the environment.
I think this is the perfect time when, alongside menstrual education, we can educate women about sustainable menstrual hygiene products and their impact on the environment. The Indian government goes to great lengths to provide menstrual products free of charge to all menstruation who cannot afford it in schools and colleges. Instead of providing sanitary napkins, it would be ideal to give and educate a girl menstrual cup, this will not only have a positive environmental impact but also contribute to the economic growth of the country. All the changes start at home, and to help the government, even if we start giving our housekeeper a menstrual cup and educating her, it will fill a huge void. Things are changing, with the increase in education of women, they are making informed choices.
The damage of our waste is piling up somewhere. We can all make a difference. Every step towards sustainability counts. (IANS)


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