Menstruation and Environment- An Intersection Often Ignored!
The environmentally dangerous effects of social period shaming!
“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you!”, said the 16 year old activist Greta Thunberg in her speech at the UN. Environment is the issue which has been neglected blatantly by the world leaders. Although there are various summits and agreements, but these agreements merely get to see the dawn. She further added, “You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
Another important issue being ignored simultaneously by many is Menstrual Hygiene. It still remains an issue which many consider shameful to talk upon, and is full packed with myths and taboos. Former Miss World- Manushi Chhillar, passionate to work upon the Menstrual Hygiene had launched her Feminine Hygiene Awareness campaign to create awareness on the subject and had said,” Let’s not only educate, but also provide a sustainable model for good menstrual management.” What becomes quite interesting to notice is that the serious issues like environment and menstrual hygiene are being ignored but when they are talked upon, a very few might end up talking on the intersection of both, that is- the hazard of menstrual waste.
Menstrual waste can be understood as the waste generated as a result of menstruation. It comprises of period products,- primarily the sanitary pads. Few methods like burial, burning and like are used as disposal mechanisms but the majority of this waste is not decomposed.
The Crisis in statistics
Menstruators used cloth rags and like things during menstruation before the sanitary pads became affordable and accessible. The throw culture which was promoted was readily welcomed as it proclaimed for providing a fuss free menstruation but the very same sanitary pads are gradually posing an environmental threat. As per a report by Water Aid, a sanitary pad takes around 500 to 800 years to get decomposed. Imagine just for once the huge lump of 12 Billion sanitary pads ending up in a landfill annually to be there for next half century and that too in India alone, let alone the world. The Report by Marine Conservation Society also does not present anything favourable on the Subject. It exclaimed that around 8.5% of all the litter on our beaches is menstrual waste.
Further, there is no clarity as to whether the menstrual waste is bio medical waste or dry waste. Data from the Minsitry of Drinking Water and Sanitation on Menstrual Hygiene Management shows that 28 per cent of such pads are thrown with routine waste, 28 per cent are thrown in open, 33 per cent are disposed via burial and 15 per cent are burnt openly. The plastic sanitary pads not only stay for half a century in the environment but also have the potential to cause diseases, if left undisposed.
As per the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, there has to be separate sanitary landfill for the disposal of sanitary waste in each city and town but none of the cities have them yet. Moreover, it has been now mandated by the Central Government for the manufacturers of sanitary pads provide disposal bags as well from January 2021.
Of all these problems, the solutions do exist. The first and foremost solution is the awareness, as to the importance of Menstrual Hygiene. With this awareness, efforts must be made for sustainable menstruation, for which- menstrual cups, cloth pads, tampons can be an effective solution to the growing menstrual waste. A social media campaign- Green The Switch is creating awareness on sustainable menstruation through art and using the power of social media. Sustainable period products are economical and long lasting. For instance, cloth pads which utilize sunlight as a natural disinfectant, are economical, environment and hygiene friendly. Right to accurate information on how to safely manage periods is something which Manushi Chhillar emphasized upon this year as well.
Thus menstruation and the environment is an intersection which is highly ignored but if this intersection is worked upon, a plethora of problems can be solved simultaneously. Inequalities based upon gender, and economic and financial status can be reduced, the ciries and places will be more sustainable and now that there is mechanism in place for the Swachta Ranking, this can even win accolades for the city. Addressing this problem would also mean a responsible pattern of consumption and production and the people having access to hygienic living conditions.
Our environment is degrading fast and this is a call to take action. Waste management is one of the core components of environment protection. If the entire menstrual waste is managed, there surely would be positive and long lasting impacts on the environment. Territorial and aquatic life both can be saved from more damage by working on this intersection as the day is not far when, if we move with the same pace and manner, the oceans would be full of trash and the land would be a huge huge landfill. Else the new paraphrasing of Coleridge would be- “Resources resources everywhere but not a single resource to be utilized.” The dreams shall see the dawn only when the Earth continues to sustain, else everything would be left as a tiny piece of crap we throw to end up at the landfill.
A Second year Law student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow, who believes that traditional concepts need to be seen in new lens else those concepts might appear to be not that relevant.