Menstrual Waste Disposal: Where does India stand and how do we address the challenge?

Published: March 2020

It has been estimated that around 1 billion used sanitary napkins are discarded per month in India. Various studies have suggested that a single disposable sanitary napkin contains plastic which takes up to 500 to 800 years to naturally decompose, making sanitary napkins a serious environmental hazard. In addition, these products contain blood and bodily fluids, which if not sanitized to destroy pathogens, can spread dangerous infections to those coming in contact with such waste. All these aspects make the proper disposal and treatment of menstrual waste an extremely vital aspect of the menstrual health management (MHM) value chain, one that India can no longer ignore. Acknowledging the need to address these issues, various central government bodies, state governments and municipal corporations have issued rules regarding the handling of menstrual waste over the past few years. However, their implementation remains patchy and most menstrual waste still finds itself accumulating in landfills.

More recently, there has been a thrust by governments towards installation of incinerators in places with high footfall such as schools, workplaces, malls etc. However, the emission and safety standards of these incinerators are yet to be issued. Certain municipalities have also experimented with incineration at centralised bio-medical facilities. Although environmentally friendly and cost-efficient in comparison with decentralised incineration, such centralised facilities require menstrual waste to be segregated at source, which remains a challenge.

Given this context, TQH undertook a detailed study for the NFSSM Alliance to understand how this problem might be addressed. We spoke with a wide array of stakeholders in the menstrual hygiene and waste disposal ecosystem, including municipal officials, sanitary workers, civil society organisations, incinerator manufacturers and incinerator users to bring together their experiences and insights. This is one of the first comprehensive studies on the state of menstrual waste disposal in India. The study looks at the menstrual waste value chain in detail and presents possible solutions to this ballooning problem. A crisp brief for policymakers is also available below.

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Access the detailed report here
Read the brief for policymakers

Saving the economy from COVID-19

Will India’s 20 lakh crore relief package deliver?

On May 12, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation through a televised address whereby he outlined the plan for India’s continuing response to the Covid-19 pandemic. He urged self-reliance and promotion of Indian enterprises. He also announced a special economic package, and said that the recent announcements by the government as well as the measures by the RBI, combined with the May 12 financial package amount to Rs. 20 lakh crore — nearly 10% of India’s GDP. The details of this special economic package were announced by the Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, through daily press briefings. The document attached here analyses the measures announced by the Finance Minister.

A careful perusal of the measures indicates a far lower fiscal outgo than what would have been expected for a stimulus equaling Rs. 20 lakh crore. Many announcements are a reiteration of earlier expenditure measures, and some others focus on monetary policy interventions to increase money supply. Several measures aim at long-term impact, without having any direct implications for the short-term COVID-19 recovery process. Fitch solutions, a macro intelligence firm estimates the fiscal impact of the additional stimulus to be only about 1% of GDP as opposed to the suggested 10%. Many analysts have thus called out the government’s tepid response to the crisis, especially given the economic contraction that India is staring at, with GDP slump projected to be as high as 45% for the quarter and 5% for the entire financial year.

In many ways, India’s response seems to pale in comparison with those of other countries, even against ones that did not impose as widespread a lockdown as India did. Countries like the USA and UK have been focusing on saving jobs and keeping demand from collapsing. The US is giving a one-time $1,200 cheque to every adult earning up to $75,000, plus $500 for every child they have. This is estimated to benefit around 90% of the households in the country. Similarly, the UK Government has committed to paying 80% of salary for staff who are kept on by their employer, covering wages of up to £2,500 a month.

While a like to like comparison is of course not possible, and the lack of formalisation in the Indian economy certainly makes it difficult for the government to implement a stimulus package as effectively as it is done in the developed world, the idea of the above comparison is to highlight the wide difference in the quantum of support. In the note linked here, we enumerate the different measures announced by the Finance Minister and analyse the likely impact of each measure on India’s immediate economic recovery, while highlighting potential challenges in implementation.

Access the detailed analysis here