Use-and-throw sanitary pads now have alternatives

Napkins made of jersey material or bamboo charcoal ash are a green option

The presence of plastic in personal hygiene products is often hidden, yet regarded as an essential ingredient for cleanliness. Like in the case of sanitary napkins, it is the thin plastic layer that makes the product leak-proof.

But it is this very bit of concealed plastic that has also become the sanitary napkin’s biggest drawback. Municipal authorities across India are facing a problem of disposing of soiled napkins whose plastic lining makes them non-biodegradable, and thanks to improper disposal, has contaminated water and soil systems.

Reusable pads

Non-governmental organizations and home-based innovators have started working on creating a more eco-friendly alternative through reusable cloth napkins.

In Tiruchi, NGO Gramalaya uses layers of jersey material (also known as ‘banian’ cloth) sourced from Tirupur’s hosiery units, in its ‘Feel Free’ brand of washable napkins that are stitched by tailors in self-help groups. The NGO has combined the promotion of Feel Free pads with its menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and toilet building programmes across India.

“With the help of HT Parekh Foundation, Mumbai, we have selected Kunnandarkoil block in Pudukottai district for distributing 10,000 packs of Feel Free cloth pads (each pack contains 4 pieces), worth ₹20 lakhs,” Gramalaya founder-director S. Damodaran told The Hindu.

Recently, ATK Nagar of Uppiliyakudi panchayat was declared by Gramalaya as a village where 100% of menstruating women belonging to 135 families were using Feel Free pads.

“If 10,000 families can be motivated to adopt reusable cloth pads in the block, we can stop 6,00,000 commercial use-and-throw sanitary pads polluting our water sources and environment,” said Mr. Damodaran.

While a separate for-profit organization markets the Feel Free pads online (prices start from ₹140), Gramalaya is also diversifying the product to suit the export market.

Personal experience

For Puthur, Tiruchi-based B. Sumathi and her mother, personal experience led to their alternative to the commercial disposable napkin, which sells under the brand ‘My Flow’.

“We felt that the long-term exposure to chemicals and plastics in the disposable napkin was creating or exacerbating problems like heavy bleeding and infections, which were absent when we were using cloth pads,” said Ms.Sumathi.

With the help of online research, they narrowed down on pads that use biodegradable bamboo charcoal ash to line cotton cloth napkins, which Ms. Sumathi adapted to suit Indian customers. “I designed the pads for both regular and medical use, and had them manufactured in China. Currently, they are available on e-commerce platforms and our own website,” she said.

My Flow pads are said to last up to 5 years with proper maintenance and come at a starting price of ₹250 per piece.

While the two-year-old enterprise still relies on word-of-mouth rather than advertising, Ms.Sumathi said that even the medical community is wary of reusable sanitary napkins. “Everyone prefers something that can be thrown away.”

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