Menstrual Hygiene Activists Launch “Cup and Cloth” Campaign to Reach PMO
A group of activists will call on the government to replace disposable sanitary napkins with reusable menstrual hygiene products in its schemes and programmes.
Bengaluru: Green the Red, a group of eco-activists and healthcare professionals working in areas related to menstrual hygiene management, has launched a “cup and cloth campaign” to bring the government and the nation’s attention to sustainable menstrual choices. The group will send the PMO a set of sustainable menstrual products as part of its awareness campaign and will call on the government to replace disposable sanitary napkins with reusable menstrual hygiene products in its schemes and programmes.
The campaign comes at a time when the Menstrual Hygiene Management-National Guidelines 2015 and actions such as the free distribution of sanitary pads schemes promote disposable products which are contributing to the growing waste management crisis in the country.
As per the National Family Health Survey 2015-16 data, 57 percent of girls and women in the age group of 15-24 years have access to hygiene products to manage their menstruation. Though the schemes by the state and central governments have the laudable aim of increasing this coverage, their focus is on distributing free disposable sanitary napkins to all adolescents in high schools and residential institutions, a solution that is far from desirable.
Each pad may take 500-800 years to decompose. Indian villages and cities have no way to manage this waste
It is estimated that a woman uses up to 10,000 sanitary pads during her reproductive age. Most sanitary pads contain a lot of plastic. Each pad may take 500-800 years to decompose. Indian villages and cities have no way to manage this waste. Incineration is being proposed as a solution. But the costs of scientifically-managed incineration are prohibitive, with bio-medical waste incineration firms charging as much as ₹22 per kg of sanitary waste in Bengaluru. Some schools, colleges and workplaces have installed mini incinerators which are a lot cheaper,but burn waste at temperatures far lower than the 800 degrees recommended by the WHO, which may lead to harmful emissions.
Some women flush down disposable sanitary napkins after use, clogging underground drains. Citing a recent incident where sanitation workers died while clearing drains in Bengaluru, “Modern sanitary napkins boast of super absorbent gel. When flushed they continue to bloat, choking our sewers. These chokes often need to be removed manually, endangering the lives of our sanitation workers. 57 sanitation workers have been reported to have died while clearing choked drains in Karnataka since 2008.”
Dr Meenakshi Bharath, a gynaecologist and waste management expert said, “Bengaluru alone generates 90 tonnes of menstrual waste per day. Reusable menstrual products like cloth pads and menstrual cups are the right choice from a medical and an environmental perspective. A single cup may last up to 10 years and one cloth pad up to 3 years. They are a perfect solution for the objectives of Swachh Bharat Mission.”
Dr Pushpalatha, a gynaecologist, said, “Disposable products also contain chemicals that several women are allergic to and which can be potentially carcinogenic. In fact, cloth is a perfectly safe option, but the shame attached to menstruation and cultural taboos often lead to its unhygienic maintenance.”
Rishita Sharma who set up a WhatsApp group dedicated to supporting women who are trying out these products for the first time, said, “The group was started as information about these products is not widely available. Old users help new users and each ‘cupvert’ invites her friends. It is a women’s movement which is going viral and has encouraged more than 500 women to switch to reusable products.”
In recent years, sustainable menstrual products have received considerable visibility through the support of celebrities such as former supermodel Milind Soman and actor Kalki Koechlin. Menstrual cups are silicone-based insertable devices that collect menstrual fluid. Sustainable cloth pads are made up of layers of absorbent cloth and come in various fits and types. Women who use cups do not need to restrict their activities during periods as they can go swimming, running or undertake long-haul trips without the discomfort and inconvenience that comes with using a sanitary napkin.
Through the “Cup and Cloth” campaign, the group aims to reach out to Prime Minister Modi to spread the message about sustainable menstrual products. Entrepreneurs who produce “green” menstrual products have each donated either a menstrual cup or cloth pad to the campaign. The group is requesting the government to evaluate these alternatives and to provide the same in their menstrual hygiene schemes, a move that may prove to be financially more sustainable considering the non-recurring nature of the expenditure and huge cost savings in waste disposal.