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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