Lately, sustainable menstruation has become one of the most talked-about practices around the world. To that end, India is also witnessing a steady growth, with many women switching to menstrual cups and cloth pads for minimal or no impact on the environment. For those who are still pondering over the thought of making the transition to sustainable products, there are options available online that claim to be 100% environmentally-friendly. While in a bid to reduce their carbon footprints, many others have opted for ‘biodegradable’ sanitary napkins, questions are raised about how green is this choice? “Biodegradable products are those that break down naturally, but this very process may, in certain cases, take years to complete. Also, there is no such standard in the world for biodegradability. Hence, it is probably safe to say that this term can be misleading too,” warns sustainable menstrual hygiene expert Jaydeep Mandal. So, how do we know how eco-friendly our sanitary napkin.
Bangalore Times engages in a conversation with experts to decode the facts…
Compostable pads turn into manure within 180 days
While making a purchase, look for the term ‘compostable’ instead of ‘biodegradable’. “The timeline for a compostable pad is 90 to 180 days. Compostable napkins disintegrate into the soil within the set time, without causing any harm to the ecosystem. It turns into manure within 90 to 180 days under composting conditions. Fully compostable sanitary pads are sometimes confused with biodegradable pads or oxo-degradable pads. Hence, consumers need to be aware of what they are buying,” explains Jaydeep.
The materials used in making the sanitary pads will have to change
Elaborating a little more on what goes into making the product fully compostable, Jaydeep says, “To make the product green, we need to replace the plastic materials from sanitary pads with eco-friendly substitutes. Usually, the top permeable layer (generally non-woven) in a sanitary pad, the barrier plastic layer used underneath, petro-chemical Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP) and the hot-melt gum or glue are made from non-compostable and biodegradable materials. Apart from the gum, which is used in minimal amounts, the other components need to be replaced to make the whole pad compostable and biodegradable.”
It is the components with which the napkin is made that categorises the product into eco-napkin, bio-pad or the regular pad. Because of its texture and look, the perforated polyethylene or non-woven polypropylene, which is used as the top sheet, is often confused to be cotton. But it is not compostable. Also, the polyethylene back sheet or the barrier sheet and the top sheet together constitute roughly 30% weight of a sanitary napkin.
Investment and innovation can help make green pads easily available
Thanks to research and innovative techniques, natural materials like water hyacinth pulp, corn starch, bamboo fibre, banana fibre and jute are being increasingly used for manufacturing sanitary pads. “We use banana and bamboo tree fibre, which uses up to six times less water and 10 times less fertiliser to grow, compared to cotton. Banana and bamboo trees are abundant in India, and the fibre we use is agricultural waste or a by-product from the crop,” explains green entrepreneur Kristin Kagetsu.
However, pricing becomes an issue, as these products are costlier than then ones that are already available in the market. “In order to facilitate the availability of environmentally-friendly, indigenous products, the government needs to come forward to support research as well as ensure adequate investment in this sector,” sums up Jaydeep.