Around 336 million people menstruate in India. That produces 12 billion disposed pads, amounting to 9,000 tonnes of waste. Menstrual waste contains a complex quality of non-biodegradable plastic – soiled with blood, human tissues, bacteria – which makes it hazardous bio-medical waste.
However, we don’t have a mechanism in place to segregate the used pads before dumping them in the open. So, I started a digital campaign to garner support for my online petition on Change.org. I am petitioning the mayor of Kolkata to stop the open dumping of menstrual waste. The demand is that menstrual waste should be segregated and treated safely.
In less than a month, we have received over 50,000 signatures.
Kolkata’s waste crisis
The practice of unsegregated open-dumping poses harmful risk. Disposed sanitary products are unhygienic and hazardous, which when handled by sanitary workers without gear, makes them prone to diseases and infections. Needless to say, due to India’s poor management and treatment, a majority of it ends up on the ocean floor untreated, harming the marine ecosystem.
The Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change brought in the new solid waste management rules (2016), which placed menstrual waste under the category of solid wastes which required treatment and disposal of it. There was, however, poor or no implementation of the rule.
Kolkata has been suffering from an acute waste crisis for years. It has come under the scanner time and again yet there has been no action. More than 4,000 metric tonnes of waste are dumped at the sole sanitary landfill of the city every day, which has become a sitting garbage mountain.
When last measured by the Kolkata municipal corporation in 2015, it had already crossed the dangerous height of 50 feet and exhausted its capacity to take in any more waste. The capacity for waste accumulation has crossed 30 years ago.
The average life expectancy for people residing in Dhapa (the city’s landfill) is about 50 years. Those who work as garbage collectors do so without any safety equipment and expose themselves daily to a poisonous mix of waste, toxins and germs.
Kolkata’s acute waste crisis coupled with the universal problem of menstrual waste management creates a unique and critical multi-faceted crisis at hand. There is very little or no conversation addressing it.
How did it start?
I have been an intersectional feminist activist for over three years. Due to the stigma and shame around menstruation I myself was subject to while I was very young, I felt the need to talk about it.
To that end, I started having uncomfortable conversations with my family to be able to defy the meaningless norms that I was made to follow during menstruation. Thereon, I used my platform to talk about normalising open and healthy conversations around our bodies, menstruation, sex and so on.
A couple of years ago, I also worked with SheSays – an organisation that spearheaded the campaign for tax exemption on period products. It inspired me a lot. Recently, I worked for a sustainability start-up where I met several organisations/activists working for environmental sustainability. After continued research and hands on experience, I knew this is a cause that is not being talked about. And that I have to voice my demand.
I was initially apprehensive and scared to demand action from the government, worried that not many people will support the cause. Too many people told me the world has become a horrible place to even hope for a small positive change. But all it took was one tiny moment of courage to start the petition. I just told myself to take a chance and just give it a shot.
Prakshi Saha is a 19-year-old activist and founder of Blood Safai. She is also a Youth ki Awaaz Action Network fellow.
Featured image credit: bloodsafai/Facebook