Women, both rural and urban, face this question every month while government authorities struggle to find a way to handle the staggering amount of sanitary waste generated. While some wrap it in plastic or paper and throw it along with domestic garbage, some flush them down or throw them into water bodies. Disposal in urban settings are mainly through routine waste and burning while in rural settings burying and throwing away in pubic spaces was also common.
Disposal of the pad is a matter of concern because of their high content of non-biodegradable components. While the uncontrolled burning of soiled menstrual waste is common in some areas, in others it is culturally prohibited. Safe disposal will become a growing problem across India as more females turn to commercial pads, with the potential for 9000 tonnes of waste (for 432 million pads) annually.
Study says that over 80% girls flush their used sanitary napkin because they are messy, bad smelly and embarrassing. Which consumes millions of liters of clean water in the toilets. Not only that, it creates blockage is the sewage line system and drainage line chock-ups which require periodically clearing of drainage lines. Once the used napkins hand over to the garbage collector, the napkins are collected as household waste by the garbage collector and later segregated. Waste pickers separate out soiled napkins from recyclable items by hand, exposing themselves to micro-organisms like E.Coli, salmonella, staphylococcus, HIV and pathogens that cause hepatitis and tetanus. After this, the sanitary waste is driven out of the city and buried in a landfill on the outskirts of a city. At times, they are shredded before being buried.
The napkin that is available in the market are non-biodegradable the thin top layer on napkins, known as the dri-weave top sheet, is made up of polypropylene (a plastic polymer). The padding is wood pulp mixed with super absorbent polymer(SAP) and the leak-proof layer is made of impermeable polyethylene. The plastic used for non-biodegradable napkin is not harmful to health but also has negative consequences on the environment.The prolonged usage of napkins can be absorbed by the vaginal and labial walls, especially the skin in these parts are highly vascular with a tendency for greater absorbency.
The non-biodegradable napkins stay in the landfills for about 800 years. The pinewood pulp that is being used in all the regular sanitary napkins consists of certain amounts of compounds such as dioxin which is carcinogenic in nature. Few research papers claim that it’s present in trace amounts and can be avoided because we also come across this dioxin compound in various other forms in nature. But there is no confirmed study regarding the safe level of super absorbent fluid that can be used and it relation to various kinds of infection. There may be risk related to various intrauterine infections or some serious health conditions due to the exposure of carcinogenic compounds in the specific area. Super absorbent fluid i.e. SAP’s which is added to all the sanitary napkin to increase the absorbency capacity have shown evidence to be carcinogenic in nature if used for longer periods.