Indian menstrual waste management: a mammoth task
The Menstrual Hygiene Alliance of India (MHAI) has estimated, following years of collaboration with various stakeholders, that there are approximately 336 million menstruating women in India who use residuos biosanitarios, totaling 121 million. Based on the number of sanitary napkins used per menstrual cycle and the number of disposable sanitary napkins consumed annually, India uses about 12.3 billion disposable napkins, most of which are neither biodegradable nor compostable.
As disposable sanitary napkins are not biodegradable and pose several health and environmental hazards, residuos biosanitarios have become an increasingly difficult problem in India. Due to the unorganized management of municipal solid waste and the lack of community collection, disposal, and transportation networks in the cities and villages, the impact is even greater. A further pertinent issue raised by the SWM Rules is the question of whether used sanitary products belong to the biomedical waste category or the plastic waste category.
The Indian government has launched several campaigns and awards in the past five years to support ‘Clean India’ in letter and spirit. Every level of the nation embraces ‘Clean India’ as part of the political will to establish a clean environment. Menstrual waste management, which remains taboo due to social and cultural norms, falls squarely into the category of waste management.
Despite the efforts of the ministries of Human Resources and Women and Child Development to provide girls and women with access to these essential healthcare products, other ministries must move together cohesively and quickly to raise awareness about menstrual hygiene management and to break the stigma and silence surrounding menstruation as to safe disposal. Cities and rural areas in India have a time bomb that needs immediate attention because of the increasing use, availability, and waste load of non-biodegradable menstrual products.
Waste management solutions must be based on the types of products being used. Disposable sanitary napkins present a challenge since most are liners, nonwoven covers, and SAPs that are noncompostable. There are two types of noncompostable sanitary napkins: SAP-lined and non-lined.
The current methods of disposal
The waste generates energy/electricity in waste-to-energy technology incinerators. During combustion, temperature and pressure are carefully controlled, allowing emissions to be controlled even at low temperatures. Various innovations are being implemented to produce waste-to-energy incinerators for community and institutional use, capable of incinerating all napkins. The drawback of this model is the limited number of waste-to-energy plants in the country. The few that exist are found at select locations and operate on a large scale. It will take time to develop and test waste-to-energy innovations applicable to community and institutional settings and bring them to market.