Pad it up!

Amrita Prasad
Wednesday, 21 March 2018

With menstrual health and sanitary napkins slowly becoming part of public discussion, we speak to some groups and individuals who have made an effort to produce not just affordable, but eco-friendly pads unlike the more famous disposable ones.

A kshay Kumar’s recent movie Pad Man ensured wide-ranging discussions over menstruation leading to a domino effect where more and more men and women became vocal about periods and the need for hygienic sanitary napkins. Many individuals, and organisations have come forward to donate sanitary pads to help those who can’t afford them. But does that really solve the problem? Not quite. Use of disposable sanitary napkins not only leads to skin and gynaecological problems for women but also causes colossal damage to the environment. Sanitary napkins made of biodegradable materials is hence the answer.

BACK TO COTTON 
Anju Bist is the co-creator of the reusable Saukhyam Pads which use banana fibre as absorbent material. These pads dry very fast, absorb much more liquid than other cloth pads, and are easy to wash. These make you feel much more comfortable than disposable pads that are sold in the market and can last up to four years. She feels that cotton and biodegradable sanitary pads are the need of the hour. “The soiled pads don’t degrade for hundreds of years and burning them is very harmful to the environment as well. In addition to these environmental aspects, gynecologists are now speaking up and saying that it is possible that the growing incidence of gynecological disorders is related to the improper use of disposable sanitary pads which have a cocktail of chemicals,” he cautions.

Bist, who is associated with Mata Amritanandamayi Math, conducts awareness sessions in schools and colleges to acquaint young girls with facts about menstruation and the environmental and health impacts of menstrual hygiene products. She is part of the Amrita SeRVe (Self Reliant Village) project initiative wherein sustainable menstrual hygiene options are also being introduced to young girls in rural areas across the country. When asked how Saukhyam pads work, Bist says that they have a base made of cotton cloth in vibrant colours and has an insert piece. The base can be worn the entire day and the inserts can be changed as and when needed. “The base has a leak-proof layer and wings that keep the pad in place. There are two-fold inserts and three-fold inserts. The four-fold insert is meant for night use.”

Saukhyam pads were manufactured with a woman’s hygiene and rural employment in mind. “We currently have production centres in our villages in Telengana and Uttar Pradesh. We have provided training in Chattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and West Bengal. A decent income is guaranteed for these women if we can manage sales in urban areas. One of the best parts of the project is that these women no longer have to seek work outside of the village — they get regular income while staying in the village itself,” says Bist.

Talking about the impact of disposable pads, Bist highlights, “We generally speak of three factors in our awareness sessions — health, environment and cost. We have already seen that reusable pads save a lot of money in the long run. There is a trace of dioxins in all disposable pads resulting from the bleaching process that the fluff pulp (absorbent material in all disposable pads) is subjected to. Dioxins are known endocrine disruptors. From the environment point-of-view, we remind people that trees have to be cut down to make fluff pulp and because the disposable pads are non-biodegradable, the waste burden on the planet is huge.”

According to her, the pads also empower women as users and manufactures. “For the manufacturer, having a stable means of income is the empowering factor. Also the knowledge that something they are making is being accepted by women worldwide is empowering.  For the users, switching over to reusable pads is completely liberating. Not having to buy pads month-after-month, knowing that there is no waste that is being created is a good feeling,” she describes.

But are women willing to make the switch? Bist answers, “Organsations making the cloth pads have made efforts. Rural women will gladly use a product only if they know that urban women are using it too. And since the awareness level regarding health and environmental issues is higher among urban women, our experience has been that it is better to have rural women make first for urban markets — in this way, the women in their own villages also are happy to eventually start using what they perceive to be a premium product.”

THE MOVEMENT
Keeping in mind the growing concern pertaining to proper disposal and waste management of conventional sanitary pads, The Orchid Hotel, Balewadi in collaboration with Jatan Sansthan is adopting big-degradable sanitary napkins too. Jatan Sanstan, Udaipur has launched their campaign — Uger, which aims at the promotion of sustainable and 100 per cent bio-degradable sanitary napkins.

Om Prakash from Jatan Sanstan says, “It’s high time the patriarchal society broke the monotony surrounding menstruation and men actively took part to make it an inclusive society with more power and respect given to women. The campaign aims at introducing a set of sanitary napkins which is comfortable and economically viable for its users. The initiative keeps in mind the primary objective focusing on a more holistic approach towards the disposal issue, aiming at it being eco-friendly.” The Orchid Hotel, Balewadi aims to launch it among its women staff soon.

KNOW YOUR PRODUCT  
When Tanvi Johri faced the issue of irritation and rashes after using disposable sanitary napkins, she was determined to bring the change for herself and other women going through the same problem. After a lot of research, market study and surveys, she co-founded Carmesi. Johri is the CEO of Carmesi, which offers all-natural sanitary pads made using all-natural ingredients. “We have used nature’s finest ingredients including corn starch and bamboo fibre to create Carmesi sanitary pads. Our mission is to ensure your body gets the best care, without the discomfort and rashes women experience with synthetic products,” says Johri who feels that just like any other product that we consume, knowing what are sanitary napkins are made of is a right; however, unfortunately, most disposable sanitary napkin-making companies don’t do that.

“Available in two sizes, the users have the option of buying a one-time pack or choosing a subscription on the website. You can customise your order. Carmesi napkins do not contain any harmful synthetic or chemical substance: no dioxins, no dyes or chlorine bleach, no artificial fragrances, no parabens, latex or formaldehyde and no trees are cut to make these pads,” Johri says about Carmesi which means crimson in Spanish.

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