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Updated: May 5, 2020

Appropriate disposal of used menstrual material is still lacking in many countries of the world. Most of the countries have developed techniques to manage their fecal and urinary wastes but, because of lack of menstrual management practices in the world, most of the women dispose of their sanitary pads or other menstrual articles inappropriately.

The Menstrual Hygiene Alliance of India (MHAI) has approximated that there are 336 million menstruating women in India, of which 36 per cent use disposable sanitary napkins — that totals to 121 million women.

The number of sanitary napkins used per menstrual cycle — at a conservative eight — plus that for the year, implies that India has 12.3 billion disposable sanitary napkins to take care of every year, majority of which are not biodegradable / compostable.

Discarded pads have human blood and tissue on them, acting as hotbeds for micro-organisms of all kinds, including pathogens. Letting discarded pads marinate in the open with optimal conditions of nutrition poses a major health hazard to the sanitary workers handling the garbage.

Moreover, sanitary pads today comprise 90% plastic, namely polyethylene and polypropylene. They are non-biodegradable and take around 800 years to degrade.

According to the MHAI, three main concerns are central to management of this largely non-compostable menstrual waste in India:

  • First, paucity of appropriate disposal and treatment options leading to unsafe management of the waste.

  • Secondly, many girls and women lack access to those waste management options that exist due to their limited ability to negotiate for solutions because of a continued culture of silence associated with menstruation.

  • Thirdly, lack of access to disposal options may lead girls and women using otherwise hygienic products in an unhygienic manner (e.g., use a pad for longer than it should be).

The best ways to dispose of sanitary pads manually are:

1. Always cover your used pads with a proper, sealed bag, which does not allow the pad to be exposed.

2. If your pad does not come with a proper leak proof disposal bag, there are biodegradable disposal bags available in the market that you can order and keep with yourself whenever you want to dispose of a pad.

3. Do not ever flush a pad in the toilet. It will lead to the blockage of your drain. Throw it in a trash.

4. Soiled pads can be burned in incinerator. These incinerators can burn upto 200 sanitary pads in an hour.

5. If you using a synthetic sanitary pad (My advice: Don’t), dispose it of in the dry waste trash bin as the sanitary pad is not biodegradable.

6. If you are using a natural/organic sanitary pad that’s biodegradable, you can dispose it of along with your wet waste.

Having said this, there are still some concerns:

1. The non-biodegradable nature of sanitary pads pushed people to resort to biodegradable options but there are availability and affordability (cost ranges from Rs 7 to Rs 25 per piece) issues.

2. Due to the presence of plastic component in non-biodegradable pads, it takes 800 of years to decompose.

3. To completely burn a pad, it needs to be heated for 4-5 minutes at a temperature of 800 degrees Celsius.


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