While both seem indispensible, there are healthier and eco-friendly options available in the market, says Preethi Sukumaran
There is one category of waste few want to discuss: used sanitary napkins and disposable diapers.
With the addition of blood or faeces, these disposables become a health hazard for the city. Further, there is also no humane way for garbage collectors to handle this waste.
The environmental trail of these disposables is even more alarming. A parent choosing disposable diapers, typically till the baby is two years old, would run through 5,000 disposable diapers which would require 20 trees to be cut down and 1,180 litres of crude oil burnt during manufacture.
The statistics around feminine hygiene products are no less alarming. Only 12% of the 355 million women of menstruating age in India can afford disposable sanitary napkins. But these 42.6 million Indian women will conservatively throw 21.3 Billion sanitary napkins into a landfill in their lives.
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Apart from wood pulp used in both disposable diapers and sanitary napkins, chlorine bleach is a key ingredient; used to whiten the pulp for aesthetic reasons. Chlorine bleach is both an environmental and health hazard, releasing toxic chemicals as a by-product of the bleaching process.
At every stage of manufacturing and use, disposable products like diapers and sanitary napkins, waste precious resources like crude oil and trees, contaminate water and the atmosphere with dangerous chemicals, and finally end up in a landfillsince there is no option to dispose them in a safe manner.
Re-usable Modern Cloth Diapers (MCD) have two parts, a water-tight outer cover with a washable cloth insert inside. Once the MCD is full, the poop is flushed down the toilet, the inserts washed and re-used. Further, the baby does not come in contact with a harmful cocktail of chemicals found in any disposable diaper. MCDs also work out to be more economical if used over a two year period compared to disposable diapers not to mention their enormous positive impact on the environment.
Two options exist for concerned women who want to explore healthier and more environmentally sustainable options for sanitary napkins.
The first is the “SheCup” which is worn internally, and is made from silicone and designed like a cup to collect the menstrual blood. This can be worn for 12 hours. Once full, the contents of the cup can simply be emptied into the toilet, and the cup can be cleaned and worn again.
The second option is a re-usable sanitary napkin made from cloth. The design and use of these cloth napkins is similar to disposables, and they provide absorbency by using many layers of cotton. They have options for heavy and light flow days and a combination of the two can fully substitute disposable napkins every month. They are quite easy to care for as well, and can even be washed in a washing machine after soaking and removing all the menstrual discharge. Here again, the re-usable cloth napkins protect the user from coming in contact with a number of harmful chemicals found in disposable napkins.
The thought of switching entirely to reusable options may seem daunting. But every sanitary napkin or disposable diaper you can save from a landfill will have a cascading effect and positively impact forests, water, air, the city you live in and your health.
Preethi Sukumaran is the CEO & Co-Founder of Krya
Pdfs of presentations made at Clean Chennai @ Home workshops in Adyar (Sep 7) and Nungambakkam (Sep 8)
Composting by Navneeth Raghavan
Garbage segregation by Navneeth Raghavan
Managing garbage effectively by Srinivas Krishnaswamy & Preethi Sukumaran
Here is a quick guide to start composting and recycling: http://thne.ws/cc-fridgesheet
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