NEW DELHI: About 12.3 billion or 113,000 tonnes of used sanitary napkins are dumped in landfills in India each year, adding to the plastic pollution already existing in the country, shares a new study titled ‘Menstrual products and their disposal “.
Published by the environmental group Toxics Link, the study also raised serious concerns about inappropriate disposal methods and non-segregation of menstrual waste from household waste, leading to unsanitary working conditions for workers in hospitals. waste and poses a risk of infectious diseases among them.
A single commercially available non-organic sanitary napkin (popular brands commonly available) takes up to 250-800 years to decompose or may never even decompose at all and each napkin contains plastic which is equivalent to about 4 plastic bags .
The survey, carried out during the study, clearly shows that disposable sanitary napkins are the most popular choice among women, who use products that are commercially available in India, and therefore result in huge amounts of waste.
The study further reveals that most women are unaware that commonly available disposable sanitary napkins are 90% plastic and that they are making the plastic crisis worse.
According to a study, there is currently no proper management or recycling of this non-biodegradable waste, and as a result, it ends up in landfills, where it remains for centuries and, over the years, will add to pollution. micro-plastic.
The study also raised serious concerns about the use of small-scale incinerators, which have become a favored disposal technology and are installed in various establishments like rural schools, colleges, hostels, etc., as there are no minimum standards set for these.
“Improper combustion of used pads in these low cost, low temperature incinerators can result in the emission of dioxins and furans, causing more damage to the environment and to our health. There are no tests or monitoring carried out, which is a serious gap, “says Priti Banthia Mahesh, chief program coordinator at Toxics Link.
Another major concern raised in the report is the presence of several harmful chemicals in products, which can create health risks.
“Most inorganic sanitary napkins contain SAP, VOCs, phthalates, etc. which can have adverse health effects including cancer. But surprisingly, most women don’t know it, ”shares Dr. Aakanksha Mehrotra, one of the researchers.
Menstrual waste is covered by the solid waste rules, but the Toxics Link report found that there was no system on the ground to deal with it.
“According to the DSM rules and manual, sanitary waste should be securely packaged in bags provided by the manufacturer or brand owners and handed over separately to the waste collector to avoid manual handling of this waste. But clearly, there is no implementation of EPR and there is a lack of initiative on the part of companies to deal with the issue of menstrual waste ”, shared the Toxics Link study team. .
Waste workers who were interviewed during the survey in Delhi found that sanitary waste is 100 percent unsorted at the municipal level and almost all of it reaches landfills. In addition, most waste managers are forced to work in unsanitary conditions, handling sanitary waste without adequate PPE.
There are alternatives available in the market like organic napkins, menstrual cups, etc. are not readily available.
“Scientific research should be encouraged for the most appropriate techniques for disposing of sanitary napkins or other menstrual products. In addition, tax breaks, subsidies should be given if a tested biological product comes onto the market in order to achieve a significant change in customer base, ”said Satish Sinha, associate director, Toxics Link.
The main obstacles to the transition to environmentally friendly sanitary products are the ease of availability followed by the high price of these products. About 39% of women throw their sanitary napkins in the common household trash after wrapping them, while 57.5% of women have no idea of menstrual waste flow or aftereffects.
About 89% of women think that menstrual waste is a matter of concern, although most of them do not have complete knowledge of the subject.