Anju Bist and her team from Amrita University are on a mission. To encourage women to switch to reusable sanitary towels (STs). At the Prakriya International School to talk to the teachers, Anju comes to the point right away. “How long do you think it takes a disposable sanitary towel to degrade?” A slide provides some scary statistics. It takes anything between 500 to 800 years. Each sanitary towel has the equivalent of four plastic bags in it, and releases toxins into the soil and into the air if burnt.
A quick mental calculation of how many STs each woman in the room has used over the years and the awful truth sinks in. We are collectively responsible for thousands of toxic non-biodegradable used STs still festering in the earth’s surface. And one more thing, says Anju. “The cellulose that is used in the STs to make them absorbent? That comes from trees too. So while many of us may have switched from plastic bags to cloth bags, we are still responsible for huge numbers of trees being cut down to make that cellulose.”
- The interaction with Anju Bist was the initiative of Rotary Club Smart City. Its secretary, Aparna Sunku, said, “We have several verticals of welfare activities and supporting the cause of sustainable menstruation will be a big part of it. Our members Tasneem Imani and Monica Shah will spearhead this project. We have kickstarted it at Prakriya International School and hope to spread more awareness and get the women of Coimbatore to switch to the healthier option. Not just for the the sake of ecology, but also for their own health.”
Amrita University has done much research on sustainable alternatives that can go into the making of reusable sanitary towels. And, in the course of its hunt, found that the banana fibre was one of the most sustainable. After all India is the largest grower of bananas; the banana plants yield just once, before they are cut down. Also the fibre absorbs six times its weight in fluids. So it all made sense. In December 2016, the product they came up with was awarded the Most Innovative Product Award by the National Institute of Rural Development and also acknowledged as a sustainable model by the United Nation’s Climate Change Summit.
“Reusable sanitary towels are sustainable, healthier and definitely cheaper. Just managing our waste is no longer enough; it is imperative we stop manufacturing it,” says Anju.
“The Amrita SeRVe project looks after production centres in seven States. Each has 10 women who make these pads, branded as Saukhyam. The vision is to expand to 50-60 women in each (as demand grows). It is a much-needed source of income for the women who make them in the villages.” Anju says the aim is to have manufacturing units in at least 20 states where the product is used by the women there.
- Saukhaym pads come in several combinations. If well maintained, these pads can be reused for five years or more.
- There is a set of two base pads along with three inserts and a night pad, all in an attractive pouch for ₹510. Two base pads with three inserts cost ₹280. Just a single night pad costs ₹80.
- Team Amrita is happy to address school and college students and adults about the urgent need to switch to reusable sanitary towels. They give a presentation on the subject and are open to discussions and queries. The Amrita SeRVe project has rallied village women into self-help groups to make these patented reusable napkins under the name Saukhyam.
- To know more visit www.saukhyampads.org or write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Now the cloth pads are sent to the Amrita headquarters in Kerala from where it is redistributed.The need of the hour is to disassociate menstruation from the distaste and faint shame that always seem to accompany it. “The more we speak of menstruation as a normal physiological function and a blessing rather than something to be discussed in undertones, the more progress we will make,” she says. But she rings in some hope, as she shares that in rural areas many many women have embraced the idea of reusable napkins. “It is also the younger women who are willing to make that change from disposal to reusable. All those who have used cloth napkins before and remember the unpleasantness associated with washing and hanging them up to dry discreetely are reluctant to make the switch back,” she says.
- Anju acknowledges that the idea of washing and reusing sanitary towels will take some time getting used to. “Those that are available in the market are easy to rewash and reuse. You wash them just as you would your lingerie. You just have to ensure they are washed clean and completely dry, just like you would any other clothing,” she says.
- Many women have switched to using them at home, says Anju. But we are hoping they will also use them at work. It can be and has to be done. She says there have been no complaints of discomfort or allergies. Women are realising that by using these they are taking away a huge cause of pollution. It is also heartening that most of these reusable pads are manufactured by women thereby providing them employment. Of course, these pads are a lot cheaper than disposable ones.
Corroborating this, the young Director of Prakriya International, Aishwarya Rao said that Anju’s talk demanded introspection, reflection and a re-evaluation of her opinions on reusable pads. She acknowledges, “As much as we feel that we, as educated adults, need to make an effort towards conscious and sustainable living, the reality of implementing the same in our everyday lives is a distant dream.”
But she is happy that her staff have received the idea well. “Over 80% of the teachers who attended the presentation were convinced enough to try the reusable pads. It is so sad that we are taught to despise our own blood. This session by the Rotary club of Coimbatore Smart City helped us open our eyes to new thoughts and truths. We will be certainly be taking this concept forward to our students and parents as a part of our role in promoting sustainable living.”