Conventional sanitary pads: An Eco Disaster

16th May 2018

In autumn 2017, I decided to return back to my home country, Nepal, on a Raleigh ICS placement with an ambition to make a difference in the lives of some of the most underprivileged people living in deprived areas. Over the course of 10 weeks, our focus was on providing easy access to clean water; infrastructure work; community development ; awareness raising and training in a small community named Dhuseni in Gorkha.

During the awareness raising and training events, our main focus was regarding menstrual hygiene. The reason being, over the course of our stay we observed very poor menstrual hygiene practices among women and young girls. Menstruation is still a taboo in Nepal and in most South-Asian countries. As a result, women and young girls do not have the necessary knowledge nor resources to manage and focus on their health and hygiene during this vulnerable period. We set a goal to raise awareness on the importance of hygiene, healthy eating and most of all the importance to use a sanitary pad.  I observed that the use of sanitary pads in this community was non-existent mainly due to high cost and inaccessibility. To manage periods, the culture was to use fabric cut out from their old, worn-out clothes. This had huge problems, not only health related but in terms of comfort as the blood cannot be absorbed adequately. This ultimately affected women and young girls from continuing with their daily lifestyle and even attending school and colleges, putting women at a disadvantage.

In order to resolve this issue and bring ease in the lives of these women, we organised a menstrual hygiene awareness and training event in the community. We trained these women, on how they can make recyclable sanitary pads using simple and easily available materials in their homes. Over the course of my time in Nepal, I realised that these fabric based pads had made a real difference in the lives of these women and young girls. These pads were found to be comfortable, hygienic, cost effective, and had the good capacity to absorb blood adequately and most of all they caused no damage to the health or the environment. I also observed that the sisters in my host home had started to attend school during their periods.

Training for sanitary pad making

My curiosity led me to experiment with the recyclable cloth pads and since then I have not looked back. If you are a pro at sewing or even if you’re not (trust me it’s a quick and simple method) I would highly recommend the use of DIY reusable/washable menstrual pads. These pads are also readily available to buy online or in stores. They are affordable, and so comfortable that they let you live your life as you would any other day of the month.

Conventional disposable menstrual products like pads and tampons are practical to use and invest on but come with a huge health and environmental consequences. Such products are made in such a process and using compounds and chemicals (try looking at the back of the packaging of these products next time) which could potentially cause rashes, itchiness, infections, reproductive issues and even cancer in some women. In addition, statistics show that nearly 200,000 tonnes of waste in the UK is generated from disposable menstrual products alone. Pads and tampons are made out of approximately 90% plastic, which ultimately ends up in landfill and even in seas and rivers causing damage to the life on water. I believe it is high time that we act now and start adopting a healthier and eco-friendly habit, to save ourselves and our world from crisis.

So, can we actually reverse this disaster before its too late? Absolutely. I truly believe, it is never too late to change anything in this world, as long as we start acting now. You will all be glad to know that the least you can do, is choose an environment friendly alternatives over conventional products. Moreover, a greener alternative to those who prefer tampons are menstrual cups. Although, these may be unconventional but the payoff is undeniable. I  believe they are a revolutionary invention. They are not only less wasteful, but also do not need to be emptied/changed as often as pads and tampons (can be worn for up-to 12 hours) therefore could prove to be more convenient. Moreover, they save money overtime, as one cup can last for years before a replacement is required.

I agree some of these options may be a little more expensive in comparison, however I do not believe any of us in the right mind would or should compromise our health, and the future of our environment over money or anything else. Lets be a responsible citizen, lets adopt to a green menstruation.

To conclude, Raleigh ICS placement in Nepal was magical, whereby I was able to make a positive impact and contribute towards the world’s sustainable development goals. Through this blog, I hope I can inspire others to do the same.  Lets not forget, it is our duty to preserve the world we live in. If we cannot reverse the damage already caused, the least we can do is stop ourselves from causing further damage. Simple changes  like, adopting to a biodegradable and/or reusable feminine hygiene products can prove more advantageous to your overall gynecological health and to the world you live in.


Written by Karishma Tiwari,
Raleigh Almuni
Autumn Cycle, 2017

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