Cups, cloth pads and more: Why you should switch to sustainable menstruation

The Green the Red collective has launched a ‘Cup and Cloth’ campaign to promote sustainable menstruation among women and in government menstrual hygiene schemes.
Cups, cloth pads and more: Why you should switch to sustainable menstruation
Cups, cloth pads and more: Why you should switch to sustainable menstruation
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The monthly period is every woman’s bane. It’s a dreaded time of the month and women are constantly looking for ways to ease their day. 

Recently there has been much discussion about the unsustainability of disposable sanitary napkins. Even though reams of newsprint has been devoted to products other than sanitary napkins, that are better for the environment and for you, many state governments have started campaigns to distribute sanitary napkins to girls for improved menstrual hygiene.

According to the National Family Health Survey-4, in the 15-24 age group, 59.2% of urban women and 33.6% of rural women use sanitary napkins. In terms of overall usage, which includes locally prepared napkins, cloth and tampons, the figure stands at 77.5% and 48.2% for urban and rural women respectively in the same age group

Disposable sanitary napkins come with their own environmental damage, as they are not fully degradable. Luckily, there are menstrual products that are good for your body and the environment, that are within your budget and that also ensure you are comfortable during your periods.

Green the Red, a collective which aims to promote sustainable menstruation, said that Bengaluru alone produces 90 tonnes of menstrual waste per day. ‘Cup and Cloth’, a campaign launched by the group, aims to bring the government’s attention to sustainable menstruation products. An estimate puts India’s menstrual waste at 1,13,000 tonnes annually.

Also, sanitary napkins are classified as ‘medical products’ and makers are not required by law to divulge what goes into their making on the packs.

Dr Pushpalata, a gynaecologist and one of the panellists at a press meet held by Green the Red, said, “Disposable products also contain chemicals that several women are allergic to and can be potentially carcinogenic.” She added that cloth was a perfectly healthy option, but it is usually not maintained hygienically because of the stigma surrounding periods.

Green the Red estimates that a woman uses up to 10,000 pads in her life; most of these pads are either flushed down or disposed of, but not segregated properly. The collective said that incineration firms in Bengaluru charge as much Rs 22 per kg of sanitary waste.

The present rules also do not tackle the problem of disposal of sanitary napkins head on, as the 2016 Solid Waste Management Rules say that these are to be disposed in ‘dry waste/non-biodegradable waste’ bins.

It is clear that, as of now, disposable sanitary napkins are not good for the environment. There are, of course, alternatives to the widely used disposable sanitary napkins. But what are these?

Menstrual cups: The most recommended alternative to using disposable sanitary napkins is the menstrual cup. Made of medical grade silicone, a single cup may last up to ten years, Green the Red says.

Gynaecologist Dr Meenakshi Bharat, another panellist at the press meet held by Green the Red, said that menstrual cups also reduce period cramps. They are also lighter on the purse, she added, because after an initial investment, the woman does not have to spend anything for years, which works out cheaper in the long run.

But how do menstrual cups work? The cup is folded and inserted into the vagina, and instead of pads which absorb the blood, the cup merely collects it. The cup then needs to be removed, emptied and cleaned every few hours.

Cloth pads: Cloth pads look like disposable sanitary napkins, but are made of cotton and flannel. But what does someone do when they are outside and need to change during the day? The collective said that cloth pads often come with a system that allows them to be compactly packed and put in a ziplock bag, and then cleaned whenever they reach home. Cloth pads also prevent itching and rashes, which happens due to the chemicals in disposable sanitary napkins. According to the group, a cloth pad lasts anywhere between 1.5 to 3 years.

Period panties:  A lesser known alternative are period panties, which have an absorbent pad sewed on, and also have space to insert another pad. It absorbs leaks and blood flow, and can then be washed out. However, Green the Red recommends that this be worn while using the cup in case one has heavy flow and there is fear of leaks.

Presently, as part of the ‘Cup and Cloth’ campaign, Green the Red is sending a package consisting of these products to the Prime Minister and various cabinet ministers, asking them to consider these alternatives and provide the same in their menstrual hygiene schemes.

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