Dumping of used sanitary pads posing health hazard
Lack of proper disposals of sanitary pads is posing serious environment and health hazards, say a number of health experts. It continues, mainly, due to lack of sufficient knowledge and proper Menstrual Hygiene Management.
Experts said that a significant number of womenfolk and adolescent girls are unaware of the process of menstrual waste disposal system; therefore, they dispose of solid napkins out in the open spaces.
Most sanitary napkins have perforated plastic layers at the top and adhesive plastic back along with adhesive wings, it takes years to breakdown and most of them are hardly biodegradable.
In addition, when soiled sanitary napkins are flushed or thrown in a water body, they contaminates water.
"Blood soaked napkins are a breeding ground for germs and harmful bacteria. Also harmful chemicals like Dioxin and Furan along with contaminated blood mixes in the water body. It can disrupt the water biodiversity and can introduce harmful organisms in the food chain," Dr Lelin Chowdhury, an environment activist, said.
Urban girls, when they are at home, tend to leave the solid pads unwrapped in the household corners or throw the used pads in dustbins without wrapping them. They also have a tendency to flush the solid napkins down the toilets that sometimes causes toilet and drainage clogging.
However, women in rural areas usually dispose of menstrual waste in nearby open fields, garbage dumps or rivers due to lack of disposal facilities.
"They dispose it like that because they do not know about how it will be disposed of further. Girls should be provided knowledge on menstrual management methods," said Dr Muhammad Munir Hossain, Programme Analyst-Adolescent and Youth, United Nations Population Funds. When asked what steps government should take to ensure a healthy menstrual cycle, he said that government must subsidize the price of sanitary napkins in rural schools. Also should teach school girls about importance of healthy menstrual hygiene management.
However, such practice or lack of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) often prevents girls from attending schools.
According to a UNICEF report MHM in school in South Asia shows that about 31 percent girls in Bangladesh reported that menstruation and lack of proper Menstrual Hygienic Management affected their school performance.
Referring to the Unicef report many experts noted that barriers to Menstrual Hygiene and Management among school girls hampers progress towards Sustainable Development Goals No 3 (ensure healthy lives and well-being for all at all ages). Deep engrained social stigma attached to menstruation in Bangladesh impacts the disposal habits of menstrual hygiene waste.
Women and girls are so ashamed of the phenomenon of menstruation that, in most cases, they avoid disposing the waste properly and rather hide it or dispose it in a way that can be detrimental to the environment and health as well.
Health experts and development officials demanded a mass awareness programme about disposing menstrual wastes and providing pads free of cost in the rural areas.
At the same time, many experts opined that menstrual health management should be incorporated in the policies and legislation. Talking with the Daily Observer, Dr Sabina Faiz Rashid, Dean and Professor, BRAC JPG School of Public Health, said that many girls in rural areas aged between 10-11 get traumatized during their first signs of puberty and gradually many drop out from the schools due to lack of awareness and orientation about menstruation.
"Government should arrange such programme in the schools, and separate toilets for girls along with an incinerator or feminine hygiene bins should be available so that they can change their pad /cloths," she said.
"Girls keep their menstrual waste for hours which is very harmful for their reproductive health due to lack of proper disposal facilities. Such facilities should be available in schools" she added.
However, many experts were unwilling to talk about the pad recycling process like many developed countries do, as they think Bangladesh in not yet ready to go for recycling pads due to social stigma.
They said that at first government needs to be successful to break the taboos through mass awareness programme then later they can think of menstrual pad recycling.
Md. Abdur Razzak, chief of Waste Management of Dhaka North City Corporation informed that they collect raw wastes from the private waste collectors and finally dumps it in a field at Aminbazar. Later waste pickers or waste collectors separate wastes from the dump station.
Talking with the Daily Observer, Nakib Rajib Ahmed, Head of Programmes, Red Orange Media and Communications said that at first government should take proper long- term steps to establish proper nationwide disposal mechanism for menstrual products like sanitary pads. The next step is to inform the masses so they are informed and can properly dispose menstrual products after use.
The private sector and non-government organisations can play a big role as a part of this campaign. Next steps should be to make moves toward biodegradable menstrual products like biodegradable sanitary pads. This can be led by the private sector or by private -public partnerships. Talking to the officials of Ministry of Education, this correspondent came to know that they have a circular which emphasized on safe, clean sanitation system and toilets in schools but not focused on menstrual and reproductive health.