What is sustainable menstruation? List of sustainable menstrual products to look for. Why is the awareness of sanitary pads in rural areas still low?

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Anshruta Poddar


Sustainable menstruation, also termed ‘green menstruation’, refers to the use of biodegradable sanitary products with a view to reducing the monstrous burden that non-biodegradable sanitary products create on earth. The traditional disposable and non-biodegradable sanitary napkins, although more hygienic and absorbent, can take up to 800 years to fully decompose after disposal. When one multiplies this with the millions of sanitary napkins being disposed off each day, the figure is mind-numbing. To think of the kind of ecological impact this has on the system, is worrisome to say the least.


Of the 330 million menstruating population in India, nearly 120 million use such disposable sanitary products. With approximately 12 periods a year, and each period requiring a minimum of 8 sanitary pads, each menstruator is generating close to 100 sanitary pads a year. The absorbing gel, adhesives on the wings, and plastic content in the pad makes it excessively difficult for decomposition. The repercussions of prolonged usage of non-biodegradable sanitary products are too grave for the future of mankind. This issue warrants immediate action on the part of the authorities as well as menstruators.


Switching to more sustainable products is the only long-term solution to this issue. Here’s a list of some of the sustainable menstrual products available in the market-


  • Menstrual Cups: They are made of medical-grade silicon and can be reused for 5-10 years. Menstrual cups are a new, path-breaking development in the sanitary space, especially for the rural menstruating population that cannot afford to spend on purchasing sanitary napkins month-after-month. The purchase of 8-10 sanitary napkins each month can be replaced by purchasing one menstrual cup for 10 years. The only drawback of using a menstrual cup is that since it involves insertion, it can cause infection or mild rashes if not washed and cleaned hygienically. Having said that, it is not only a more affordable solution, but also a more sustainable one.

  • Reusable Cloth Pads: Cloth sanitary napkins of the reusable variety can be washed and reused for a period of up to 2 years. This makes it an attractive alternative to the disposable sanitary pads from an environmental standpoint.

  • Biodegradable Sanitary Pads: For those comfortable with using sanitary pads, a good substitute is a biodegradable sanitary pad. While the disposable variety can take up to 800 years to decompose, the biodegradable one typically takes only 6-12 months.

  • Menstrual Underwear: Also known as period panties- they look like regular underwear, but have an absorbent core that can be washed and reused for a period of up to 2 years. Period underwears have multiple layers of microfibre polyester that absorb the menstrual blood. They also have an antimicrobial layer designed to get rid of the odour. The outer layer is usually nylon or lycra. It is a very simple to use and effective alternative to non-biodegradable products.

Biodegradable sanitary products come with a set of added health benefits for the menstruator’s reproductive and vaginal health. The disposable sanitary napkin has a significant plastic content, and the long-term use of plastic in such a sensitive area, can cause itchiness, rashes or mild infections. The artificial fragrances added to reduce odour are not skin-friendly and can cause mild side-effects in a few. Cloth is always a preferred material for sanitary use, and if used hygienically and efficiently, it’s benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

Unfortunately, the state of menstrual health in rural India is dismal. The awareness of both disposable as well as reusable sanitary products is very low. This can largely be attributed to ‘Period Poverty’. Period poverty refers to the lack of affordability of a large population of rural menstruators when it comes to the purchase of products for menstruation. They still prefer to use freely available materials such as cloth, dust, leaves, or even ashes. This not only hinders good menstrual health management in the villages but also leads to diseases and infections. Most menstruators have grown up seeing their mothers use such materials during menstruation and therefore they think that this is the most sensible and affordable form of practicing menstrual hygiene. Another factor contributing to the lack of awareness in rural India is the taboo surrounding menstruation. Since menstruation is rarely spoken about openly, the need for sanitary napkins too is seldom addressed. Changing the mind-set of such a large population is a long and arduous task.

Ujaas, an initiative by Ms Advaitesha Birla, is working towards creating solutions for a more sustainable period. The team at Ujaas has already penetrated to remote parts of the country and distributed affordable sanitary napkins to menstruators who may not have otherwise been able to purchase sanitary products. The seminars conducted by Ujaas have also impacted several thousand individuals. With their relentless work and undying passion for the cause, they are sure to be path-breakers in the field of green menstruation.

Also read,

What are the ways to maintain menstrual hygiene? How are the NGOs helping in spreading menstrual health awareness in the rural areas? 

How is Ujaas helping in shattering stigma related to menstrual health? How can someone volunteer for this initiative? 

How is the lack of menstrual hygiene awareness and sanitation facilities affecting education?