By Shagun Maheshwari
In developing regions, women traditionally use unsanitary menstrual solutions like rags, ashes, sand, and leaves, resulting in harsh societal and health problems . To combat this, many health organizations are working to help transition these women to modern, feminine hygiene products, especially sanitary pads.
While the benefits of this transition are profound and undeniable, the use of disposable sanitary napkins comes at a substantial environmental cost:
Worldwide, an estimated 300 billion  such pads are discarded every year into landfills. In the developing world, a lack of waste management infrastructure leads to the pads ending up in waterways or in uncontrolled landfills where they break down over hundreds of years, leaching microplastics [1,2] and other toxic chemicals into the above-ground ecosystem and subsequently making their way into the local food chain.
As far as environmental problems go, this is a "billion-person problem" due to the sheer magnitude of people these polluted waters and lands affect.
It is vital to get in front of this problem by eliminating its root cause – creating a sanitary pad that is both affordable in developing-country standards and is 100% compostable without harmful byproducts.
To achieve this goal, one needs to address two main challenges - engineering, a compostable and absorbent pad, and creating an outreach program in order to facilitate the use, growth, and acceptance of the pad in low-income communities.
While significant progress has been made, like Sanfe and Saathi, there is still a long way to go in order to have a sizable impact.
Growing up in a culture where menstruation is considered taboo, unhygienic, and impure, I was always intrigued by the fact that such a natural process can be deemed so degrading and can affect the lives of women as if it were a curse. Finding a solution that is dignified and comfortable for the women who use it while also being gentle on the environment must be the goal moving forward.
Calculation: 3.5 billion women on the planet, assume 35% use pads, 12 months a year, 20 pads a cycle = 300 billion (approx, conservatively)
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