Personal Hygiene, Sustainable Health, sustainable products

How Menstrual Hygiene Can Become Sustainable & Healthy?

Menstruation is an integral part of women’s lives yet it is the most neglected and least discussed thing when we speak of women’s health and hygiene. It is the single most important thing that affects both the environment and healthcare system.

 Menstrual Hygiene Perception  & Women’s Health

Every year nearly 60,000 women die of cervical cancer in India, of which two thirds (40,000) are due to poor menstrual health. Much of these stem from the stigma associated with menstruation which has been recognized as a disease, a bad omen in our traditional beliefs. 

So much so that, women would be kept in separate rooms during their periods, wouldn’t be allowed to have certain foods like spicy or sour food etc. Even visiting temples is prohibited. One cruelest example of this is the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, which doesn’t allow menstruating women to enter as they are considered impure. This derogatory custom has been abolished by the courts recently and huge protests erupted in the state. While other religious institutions aren’t that rigorous the problems persist. 

This has taken away the basic rights of healthy living from women and driven them towards more diseases, especially in the poor. Even today, women coming from poor or low income families are the most affected ones.

Such is the condition that only 36% of the Indian women use proper menstrual hygiene products like sanitary napkins, intimate washes, Menstrual cups etc. 

This has led to the more widespread Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) and Cervical Cancer because of the use of unhygienic products like cotton materials as clothes, sand etc. 

Gradually, women have opened up to using tampons and sanitary pads both in the urban and rural areas. This has been the easiest and go-to solution for menstrual hygiene. And with sanitary pads vending machines being installed in public places this has become the most accessible form of Menstrual hygiene. 

The Environmental Burden of Conventional Menstrual Hygiene Products 

However, there’s a huge environmental burden of the sanitary napkins we use. They are plastic made and contain harmful adhesive and chemicals which is synonymous to polythene wastes. These adhesives are equally harmful to the environment and to women’s skin as they can cause rashes and skin problems. 

India generates 432 million sanitary napkins every year which takes up over  42 hectares of landfill. A single sanitary napkin takes 500-800 years to decompose! Now, imagine how much sanitary pads have accumulated from your use of sanitary napkins for 5 days a month. Enormous, isn’t it?

Green Menstruation

This is the reason the concept of green menstruation has come into force which advocates use of alternative eco-friendly menstrual hygiene products like menstrual cups, organic eco friendly sanitary napkins, reusable cotton pads. Even other urinary hygiene products like biodegradable pee funnel etc are essential elements of reducing the carbon footprint of conventional menstrual products. 

The importance of the issue can be seen the way the world comes together on 28th May every year to celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day. This year too, the world is talking about it, urging people to speak about menstrual hygiene issues and investing more on it. And the way to go about it is to invest in green menstruation. 

Eco Friendly Menstrual Products & Carbon Footprint

One thing that often deters from women taking up these eco-friendly alternatives is the relative cost of it. But this seems to be due to a lack of awareness. Eco Friendly menstrual hygiene products can be economical and in your budget if you know about them well. 

The conventional disposable menstrual hygiene products is a 6 billion dollar industry which generates 15 million tons of GreenHouse Gases every year, reports  the United Nations Environment Program which is similar to burning 35 million oil barrels. 

And in fact you are burning oil in the process as conventional sanitary pads contain adhesives that come from a derivative of petroleum and polythene. 

Types of Green Menstruation Products

Organic Sanitary Pads:

The eco-friendly sanitary pads are made of biodegradable substances and decompose with time. Moreover they don’t have harmful chemicals like parabens and other adhesives. So, you can use them without any harmful effects on the skin and environment. They also come with sealed biodegradable cloth bags pouches which you can use for disposing them. A complete biodegradable package. 

Reusable Cotton Pads

Cotton pads on the other hand, are easy to use and can be washed and reused many times for 12 months. They too don’t contain any harmful chemicals and adhesives. 

Menstrual Cups

Menstrual cups are small cup sized things that can be inserted into your vaginal area when you have periods. They might be difficult to insert but quite easy and effective to use. It holds the menstrual blood released which can be emptied and cleaned from time to time. 1 menstrual cup can last for 1-2 years, thus eliminating all the excess plastic wastage and plastic pollution associated with normal sanitary pads. 

Biodegradable Pee Funnel

Added to this, one can use products like biodegradable pee funnels which is a portable stand like funnel made of biodegradable substances that helps women urinate on the go, specially, when in poor sanitary conditions. This is ideal for traveling and unclean areas where clean toilets aren’t that much available. 

Together, all these Menstrual hygiene products can improve the health and hygiene of the country greatly, as envisioned by the Swachha Bharat Abhiyan. Swachh India highlights how a single person can drive this change simply by switching to eco-friendly menstrual products. At present, a single woman is generating 125 kg of menstrual waste per year in India.

 Imagine what we can do if we can make the switch? Green menstruation is indeed  possible and it is the need of the hour. 

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