They use and throw them on the sly--in the fields, ponds and toilets. To address the shame associated with disposing sanitary pads, the state government is mulling over setting up incinerators at residential schools for girls in the state.
Beginning next year, more than two million adolescent girls will start receiving sanitary pads for free from the state government. Health officials said the biggest challenge thereafter would be to ensure safe and hygienic disposal of the pads.
A 2013 Unicef study found that just 28% girls used sanitary pads in the state, of whom 62% buried and 26% threw them in fields and ponds. Similarly, of the remaining who used cloth during menstrual cycles, 62% buried the cloth after use while 24% threw them in ponds, the study found.
For starters, incinerators would be set up in more 203 residential Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas and later in other schools and villages.
Ranchi-based environmentalist Nitish Priyadarshi said, “The rule is to burn them in closed areas like incinerators. They don’t decompose very fast, and like plastic, they are a big threat to the environment.”
A plastic bag takes 500-1000 years to decompose, plastic bottles 70-450 years, and sanitary pads and baby diapers 500-800 years, according to experts.
Unicef official Sonali Mukherjee said, “There have been instances where school toilets had to broken because sanitary pads and clothes clogged them. Hygienic disposal is an integral part of the menstrual hygiene programme”.
Nodal officer for menstrual health Dr Jaya Prasad said, “Throwing (used sanitary pads) in the open poses health and environmental risks, like spread of bacteria and pollution. Only a few (girls) burn their pads or cloth”.
Such unhygienic practices can be attributed to an age-old belief system that burning a used menstruation napkin or cloth would bring ill-luck to the family and make the girl sick, officials said.
“We will ensure that such misinformation is gotten rid of. Menstrual health is still surrounded by taboos and myths,” said Dr Sumant Mishra, director-in-chief, Institute of Public Health.
The state will also hold village-level dissemination workshops to educate families that impose restrictions on girls, preventing them from leaving the house during their periods because they are considered “dirty and impure,” a health official said.
Though such restrictions seem archaic, surprisingly 67% girls in the state found the restrictions to be fair, while 54% girls felt embarrassed because of them, according to the study.