There are about 355 million menstruating women in India. And, out of all the menstruating females between the ages of 13 to 24, about a third use only cloth for their menstrual hygiene management (see figure 1). Others use either commercial products such as sanitary napkins or tampons, or a combination of commercial products and cloth.
Figure 1: Source – Population Services International, Kearney analysis
Although the use of commercial menstrual products seems low, the adoption of sanitary pads has doubled every five years since 2006, and annual sales of traditional sanitary pads have grown by more than eight times, according to Euromonitor.
The massive strides in the adoption of healthy and hygienic menstrual products in India are very encouraging, but there’s a catch. Most of the sanitary pads used today are made of non-biodegradable plastic. With each female using an average of eight pads per menstrual cycle, more than 12 billion sanitary pads are disposed of every year. All of this waste ends up in sewage systems or landfills or is incinerated, all of which are harmful to the environment. Traditional sanitary pads take more than 600 years to decompose. With concerns about climate change intensifying around the world, now is the time to heighten the focus on making menstrual products sustainable and environmentally friendly.
New-age sustainable menstrual products are biodegradable, compostable, and reusable—made with materials such as bamboo fiber, banana fiber, or cotton. Over the past few years, a variety of new-age start-ups in India have launched sustainable menstrual products. These products are free of both chemicals and plastic and are much more comfortable and hygienic than plastic-based sanitary pads. These “green” products not only reduce environmental damage but also promote health for women with benefits such as fewer skin rashes and infections. However, the biggest reason for the abysmal adoption of sustainable menstrual products is the lack of awareness about the negative environmental impact of traditional pads and a lack of awareness about sustainable alternatives. Therefore, the next step is to develop a well-rounded approach to expand awareness and the adoption of “green” menstrual products by following a two-pronged approach:
Create government- and community-led awareness Most women are unaware of the magnitude of the negative impact of traditional pads on the environment. Raising awareness is crucial, and all big changes start at home. Grass-root campaigns, led by the government in collaboration with menstrual product companies, can get people talking, especially since most women have very low motivation to switch to a menstrual hygiene product other than the ones they already trust. Therefore, the benefits and ease of switching to sustainable products need to be well-demonstrated.
Promote companies that manufacture biodegradable products
Along with raising awareness, making these products readily available is equally important. The government can encourage companies in this space to manufacture sustainable products by giving them tax waivers and reductions, access to raw materials at economical prices, and loans with lower interest rates.
When it comes to sustainable products, the possibilities are endless. We as a community need to ensure that along with making menstruation a comfortable phase of life for women, we also need to push for awareness and adoption of 'green' products to start building a sustainable menstrual ecosystem in India.
About authors: Hemath Peyyeti is Partner at Kearney, Singapore; Manish Bindal is Prinicpal and Akshay Goel is Consultant at Kearney, India
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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