The Ecological Journey Of An Indisposed Red Stain

The disposal of sanitary pads cannot be confined to an environmental issue only. It constitutes the way we humans accept and treat nature and women.

The disposal of sanitary pads cannot be confined to an environmental issue only. It constitutes the way we humans accept and treat nature and women.

A journey always needs an initial and an ending point. Being an entity, the non- material elements also have it from the stage of raw material to that of a final product. And this happens when an active prototype has been formed from an abstract idea which can be a solution to either a specific issue or more than one depending on its utility. But for a modern man, the criteria of sustainability becomes his last preference.    

There exists a close interconnected relation of man with nature, a man with woman and woman with nature and man. This is significant as it implicitly leads to the cause of the present state of destruction on earth. All the natural resources such as water, air, soil, flora and fauna have been overused to satisfy the selfish needs of man. And with the helping hands of science and technology, innovations came up to ease the lives of mankind. But after that what happens to those innovative productions on earth is a significant question? Earlier these products had the responsibility and even sometimes liability to meet the needs of the common man but now in the present competitive system with the new world order, it has even redefined the meaning of consumerism and ethics.

Then as a sudden social awakening man began to think of himself as a protector of nature from which the concept of conservation of nature and its resources came to the forefront. On one hand, it is with the scarcity of some resources that humans faced to meet his needs and on the other hand, it even became a market policy by implementing a ‘green concept’, which denotes originality of the products.

Thus this is a short but interesting journey of a sanitary pad from an abstract idea to its final destination concerning ‘eco-health’ and societal health. Women were forced to keep menstruation as a taboo and this implied them to confine themselves without proper awareness related to all the practices during menstruation. Animal fur, green leaves, grass, rags and even sand were the initial forms of today’s sanitary pads. Even later also women depend on clothes other than pads since they were expensive.

A quick eye on menstruation 

It’s a biological process that takes place in the body of a biologically matured girl with the flow of blood from her vagina. It usually starts with the adolescent age of a girl in which she should be physically and mentally taking preparations to receive a baby in the womb. The first menstruating experience of a girl is celebrated both religiously and socially with the concept of purity but later it has several dimensions of taboos with the concept of pollution.

Usually, this menstruation lasts for 4 to 6 days with a blood loss of 10 to 35ml. And each soaked normal size pads can hold 5 ml of blood (1 teaspoon). It is suggested to change the pads once in 6 hours by the efficient medical specialists.

Sanitary pads have the history from a European icon- France. It existed at times of war, especially for the soldiers while injured; as an important element in the primary health treatment section. At first, they were wound pads to heal the wounds and after that, only the concept of sanitary pads came up as a part of the status quo and even with expensive attire. When commercialism realized that it was an absorbent and cheap enough to dispose of it very easily, they began to implement this in the manufacturing of sanitary pads. And by 1888, in the name of-South Ball Pads, it was available in the market for purchase.

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As human nature always has the temptation to stay back in the comfort zone, with more innovative ideas the overall structure and outlook of sanitary napkins has changed with attractive modifications. The cotton material had become thin and more comfortable. Then the new idea of pads with wings came up and later with flower scents to elude the odour. To have a better comprehend knowledge about different features of sanitary pads, this has to be analysed and observed from all perspectives.

The peripheral features

This constitutes the way by which these pads are produced in the market in attracted packets. At first, these were simple with the elegant images of pads and the instructions to use. Then with the tactics of marketing, each company began to focus on a particular aspect that can create a secure urge for consumers. This will be clear with the following examples that are written on the packet of sanitary pads.

* All night hygiene: No worry of leaks, Wetness and Odor.

* Nearly 40% longer for long-lasting coverage, Absorbs in seconds, Delightful scent.

* Fresh flower scent pads with magic gel and stretchable wings.

*With proactive itch-proof technology, odour control system, four wall protection, uniquely shaped wings and fluid capture core.

[Referred from packets of Whisper choice ultra, Wonder wings, Stay free and whisper ultra-nights]

The present trend is with a cover of green colour or any hint of a green element (leaf, flower etc) to create an impression of Eco-friendly pads that neither cause harm in women nor nature.

The core features

This constitutes both the chemical and organic composition of sanitary pads. Initially, cotton was only used and later rayon and synthetic fibre also came into practice. From forestry, the manufacturers depend on the petroleum industry for materials. The presence of the absorbent core makes the pad more able to suck the liquid. But with the cellulose gel, polyacrylate gels and with the presence of dioxin the contemporary day pads have become more chemical though it makes women feel its hygiene in nature.

Concerning women’s health and Eco-health, the following features:

Scientifically approved medical features:

There were many articles and interviews related to particular types of infections and diseases that women had witnessed due to menstrual unhygienic and the use of sanitary pads. The presence of chemical content on the pads as absorbent has the efficiency to generate cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, urinary tract infection etc. And when it comes to eco-health, these chemical products when buried in the soil they kill the microflora of the soil and delay the process of decomposition. This evokes the concept of proper disposal of sanitary pads and thinking of an alternative to it.

These interior and exterior factors not only describe the nature of pads but the traits and significant features that make the woman ‘satisfied’ to some extent. But other than all these stages of a sanitary pad’s journey, the most ignorant and helpless stage was its last stage which is of disposal. Even for an ordinary person, it makes meaning and sense only until its usage. Nobody does the least care about its journey after usage. But it has a lot to describe and experience even at its last stage of the journey.

 The most common methods used by both rural and urban women are either by wrapping it up and then into the garbage bin or by burning. Both of these methods create problems as on the former it will be created as solid waste and gets ultimately dumped into the landfill where it takes many years even to decompose, finally creating odour and multiplying disease-causing germs. In the latter case, with burning all the contents that are already present in the fluid (cervical mucus, vaginal secretions and endometrial tissues) will react with the chemical used as adsorbents resulting into a very bad exposure of gases and germs that can contaminate water, soil, air and even the other organic wastes that should be decomposed properly. The other methods for easy disposal are flushing the pads in the toilet and throwing it on water bodies which can also create the same issues, both for the environment and for women.

The blocked drainage system is also cleaned by humans with bare hands which can even cause infections on their body as they are obliged to take the used pads from the drainage.

“It was reported that some women and girls wrap their used menstrual cloths and packs in polythene bags before disposing of in pit latrines which prevents them from decomposition. These pads and tampons when flushed in the toilets get saturated with liquid and swell up, thus resulting in sewage backflow a serious health hazard. The adhesive wings and the perforated plastic layers in the commercial sanitary napkins are not easily biodegradable” (Kaur Rajanbir, Kaur Kanwaljit and Kaur Rajindir (2018)).

The most modern mode of disposal is with the use of incinerators under a certain temperature as it partially reduces the problems with the environment (still burning takes place) but in the case of women, the condition will remain the same unless and until an alternative originates for this. Therefore this impact creates the space for an idea of an alternative.

And along with this certain strategy for efficient management of sanitary pads disposal

*Using Eco-friendly chemicals to an extent. Else depend completely on Eco-friendly pads that are biodegradable.

*Toilets should be women-friendly. There should be covered bins and regular time to time monitoring for bins.

*Proper and strict awareness should be given to students from their primary level of education regarding menstrual hygiene and sanitary pad disposal.

*There should be free of cost distribution of sanitary pads in all educational institutions.

*Proper safety measures including gloves and masks should be given to the workers who are behind the cleaning section.

*Along with each public toilet there should be an incinerator to dispose of pads and a pad vending machine to avoid even the wicked consumerist attitude of some manufacturers. In Kerala, some schools have installed semi-automatic sanitary napkin vending machines in toilets which contain 30–50 sanitary napkins. This operates by inserting one rupee coin and this is more than enough for a girl to meet her emergency needs. 

But this cannot be assured as safe and the best method as incinerating won’t be a good way of disposing of synthetic sanitary napkins available in the market as it can release toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. And the pads provided by the vending machine seems to be of low- quality in most of the places thereby a solution to these issues cannot be satisfied with the above steps and initiatives. For that proper study and analysis should be conducted from the content of the pad to that of the proper method to dispose of them.

An Alternative

The only alternative to this solution can be ‘going back to nature’. Though women used sand, grass, fur etc to hold the blood flow; it was unhygienic and resulted in many infections. Using cloth is one of the suggested methods by specialists as it can be reused and even it reduces the chance of spreading infections as it has been put under direct sunlight (for every use after washing well) to sterilize and to make it safer.

Menstrual cups are also available which are made up of silicon and can be used for almost 10 years. Another modern alternative is with the use of natural products to generate Eco-friendly pads. One of these initiatives has been taken by some young ladies and they raised a start-up (in 2014) to produce pads from ‘waste banana tree fibre’ called Saathi. This Ahmedabad based startup even employs poor village folks. Another example is of Jaani, an easily biodegradable and Eco-friendly pad made from Water Hyacinth (an initiative of students from the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden). There are also Bamboo charcoal pads and Bamboo pulp pads available in the markets.

These kinds of pads not only safeguard the health of women but also avoids the difficulties regarding the worst part of pads, the disposal. And here the limitation is that only a very few numbers of women population are aware of this due to lack of social discussions regarding these topics, and influence made by religious beliefs, societal attitude and lack of proper knowledge related to menstruation.  


The disposal of sanitary pads cannot be confined to an environmental issue only. It constitutes the way we humans accept and treat nature and women, the two passive resisters that provide everything when in joy and destroy desperately when abused! This has become part of the destruction of nature and creating pollution to one’s surroundings with the help of technological progress. To reduce these problems related to the environment especially concerning waste disposal, along with government initiatives –the people should also change.

In the case of menstruation and disposal of sanitary pads, the problem lies with the social attitude towards these issues. Due to lack of proper knowledge and awareness, the whole women population are becoming the victims of chronic diseases and infections. Therefore this information should be provided from the primary level of education along with the significance given to academic subjects. Since the relationship between nature, man and woman are interconnected, a sense of dependence and interdependence is needed other than domination of one over the other. And to decrease all kinds of atrocities over the environment, ‘Be the change that we want to see in others’!

Picture Credits – Stock Pictures


About the Author

Devika Jayssell

Young researcher IIT Alumini Programme officer ATREE

1 Posts | 2,015 Views

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