Tax Cuts Only For Reusable Menstrual Hygiene Products
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Menstruation is a natural monthly process an average woman undergoes for 35-40 yrs. For ages, Indian women have used cloth to manage their menstrual flow. But lately more women have switched to disposables for convenience, like sanitary napkins and tampons, that has also become aspirational for the younger generation depicted as a sign of progressive mentality.
Recently, a change.org campaign has been launched by an MP, Sushmita Dev who has sought to make Sanitary napkins tax free. While the intent is noble, this is a move in a dangerous and unsustainable direction for the following reasons:
- Economic: Considering the recurrence every month with 1-2 packets of sanitary napkins used per period, it is still not affordable by a lot of women from families below the poverty line.
- Environment: Plastics in the disposable sanitary napkins persist for 800 years in landfill. Each disposable sanitary napkin has virgin plastic equivalent of 4 plastic bags. An average Indian woman would use 6000 pads in her life-time, equivalent to 24,000 plastic bags. When buried, burnt or flushed, these cause serious air and water pollution due to the presence of toxic chemicals in the absorbent fillers and gel.
- Waste management crisis: Indian cities are burdened with the overwhelming amounts of mismanaged waste, most of it being mixed and sanitary waste. If all the 355 million menstruating women in India start using sanitary napkins, it is estimated that over 51,120 million sanitary pads would be generated as menstrual waste every year. In rural areas where there are no waste disposal systems, most of the disposed napkins and plastic packaging will end up in water bodies of villages and destroy local environments. In urban bodies, sanitary waste is a humongous burden on solid waste disposal systems and financially unsustainable due to no recycle value of disposed product. Even the so called bio-degradable napkins are not entirely free of plastic and face the same disposable issues.
- Violation of human rights and dignity of sanitation workers: Waste pickers separate out soiled napkins from recyclable items by hand, exposing themselves to micro-organisms like E. coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus, HIV and pathogens that cause hepatitis and tetanus. Disposable sanitary napkins have a high content of plastic polymers and super-absorbent gel, that makes the pad soak up water when flushed down the toilet. The pad continues to bloat as it makes its way through the underground rivers and clogs up the sewers. Sanitation workers have to go down these drains and remove them by hand, thus endangering their lives and lowering their quality of life.
- Health issues: The modern day disposable pads contain a toxic soup of chemicals that is in close contact with the vaginal skin every month. These chemicals such as bleach and those in perfume, cause rashes, irritation, fungal infections and in long term, can result in endocrine disruption or hormonal imbalance. Additionally, dioxins released through open burning and burying of used napkins has serious health implications. Dioxins are known endocrine disruptors that can cause infertility and even cancers. They are one of the ‘dirty dozen’ - the 12 initial persistent organic pollutants declared by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants..
There are far healthier, economical and environmentally more sustainable choices for menstrual hygiene management. THESE need a tax break.
For ages, women have used cloth to manage their flow because cloth is cheap, hypoallergenic, reusable and bio-degradable. Unfortunately menstrual cloth is considered unclean, not cared for and hidden from sunlight. It is not the cloth that is at fault, but the notion that menstruation is unclean - an idea that has resulted in adoption of expensive but unhealthy practices surrounding menstruation. Today, we have cloth pads which is the traditional cloth, repurposed for modern times. Cloth pads last for years, are easy to maintain and are a much better alternative to disposable napkins.
In addition to cloth pads, there are new-age options such as period panties, menstrual cups and inter-labia pads, that need to be mainstreamed as available choices.
We demand the following:
- No tax breaks for disposable sanitary products. If made cheaper through tax breaks and free schemes, it will be extremely difficult to bring in behaviour change to switch to sustainable options later as people easily get used to the convenience of use-and-throw products
- Tax breaks must be only for reusable menstrual hygiene products such as cloth pads and menstrual cups.
- Liability/SWM Tax on companies marketing and producing disposable sanitary products. Under new SWM 2016 rules, all manufacturers have to be held accountable for responsible waste management of their used products along with the government bodies.
Disposable pads do NOT need a tax break. Reusable Menstrual Hygiene Products do!
‘Green the Red’ is a campaign run by a group of volunteers who promote awareness on sustainable menstrual hygiene products. It also has among its members, women whose companies produce and sell responsible menstrual hygiene products.
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