This article has been sponsored by Avni
Several reports state that a single woman generates up to 125 kgs of non-biodegradable waste in the form of sanitary napkins, throughout her menstruating years.
When calculated, the 355 million women and adolescent girls who use sanitary products every month generate a huge volume of waste that would take hundreds of years to decompose.
But, the problem with the management of sanitary waste does not end at this. Even before the accumulation of waste, the very process of its disposal poses an irreplaceable hazard both to the environment and to the people directly involved in its management.
To get a clearer glimpse, all one needs to do is look inwards each time they dispose off a used sanitary pad improperly, without a care about what might happen next.
A social entrepreneur, Sujata Pawar, sheds light on the aftermath of this practice. “Once disposed off, along with the rest of the garbage, waste pickers have to segregate everything by hand, including soiled sanitary napkins. And they often do so without any protective gear. Exposure to this, especially with the lack of protection, can pose a huge threat to their health in the long run,” she says.
A report by Pune-based NGO SWaCH confirms this, stating that waste pickers in Pune alone have to segregate more than 20 tonnes of sanitary waste daily. And while doing so they are exposed to disease-causing microorganisms like Salmonella, E Coli, Staphylococcus, HIV and pathogens that cause tetanus and hepatitis.
But the solution to this challenge is rather simple. “All one needs to do is care enough to change and responsibly dispose of their sanitary waste in a covered paper bag marking a big red dot,” says Sujata, reiterating the message of the Red Dot campaign that was initiated by SWaCH in 2017 to combat this problem.
Sujata’s enterprise Avni that specialises in alternative menstrual products fully aligns with the campaign and has made several strides in empowering waste-pickers, while also promoting sustainable menstrual practices. Through her range of innovative feminine care products, Sujata is providing a solution that is eco friendly, healthy and guilt-free.
Embracing My Avni
The inspiration behind Avni comes from her personal experiences with various sanitary products.
“I started my first periods with regular homemade cloth pads. Later in school, I had to shift to using disposable sanitary napkins sold commercially. While using the latter was convenient, and I stuck to it for many years, sanitary pads would often cause discomfort in the form of rashes and redness. That was one of the reasons that pushed me to look for better alternatives,” Sujata says.
A healthcare professional, Sujata’s research led her to understand the harmful effects of using sanitary napkins over time. The chemicals and plastic used to make commercially available sanitary napkins, often cause irreversible damage to one’s reproductive system and harm the sensitive vaginal area.
“Conventional disposable pads often use non-biodegradable materials, but additionally, the common use of several chemicals and artificial fragrances can disrupt the hormonal balance and natural microflora of the vaginal area. The plastic used on the top of these pads can also cause irritation and rashes in the sensitive areas,” shares Sujata, who decided to switch back to cloth pads as a solution
But she soon realised that this comes with other challenges. For instance, organic cotton-based reusable pads are soft but take at least 1 to 2 days to dry. Furthermore, the challenge of washing stains effectively often poses a fear of infection when reusing them. She wanted to find a way to make reusable cloth pads that were more convenient to use.
And it was then that she came across a Danish design of reusable pads which used advanced technology to make them antimicrobial, leak-proof and stain proof.
Thus, in collaboration with them, she launched the Avni Safepad in 2020.
“It is the first of its kind with tested antimicrobial technology which protects from various vaginal infections. Each pad has three layers of high-performance fabrics that make it leak-proof, stain-proof and allow rapid absorption for 4 to 6 hours. Also, compared to a normal cloth pad, that takes almost two days to dry properly, Avni Safepad takes only 5 to 10 minutes to wash and 4-5 hours to dry and lasts for three years,” she adds.
The other products include the cotton disposable pads Avni Ezeepad with a recycled paper disposable pouch that features a red dot, menstrual cups and the ‘Go Green Period’ kit, that helps women seamlessly switch between all the products sustainably as per their preference and requirement.
Tailor-made sustainable menstrual solutions
A prominent segment of Avni’s range of products in the ‘Go Green Period’ that allows users to flexibly switch between reusable pads, menstrual cups or disposable pads, as per their convenience.
“We women already have a lot on our shoulders. We don’t need more guilt about our bodies and its needs,” she says, challenging the common mis-association of eco-friendly products with drastic and uncomfortable lifestyle changes.
According to Sujata, the idea for the Go Green Period kit also stems from personal experiences.
“I used to be a marketing professional before starting Avni and my work involved a lot of travel and hectic hours. Owing to this, my periods were exceptionally difficult and the hassle of using a cotton pad during work hours was often too much to handle. So, instead, I came up with a hybrid approach, whereby I use disposable pads during the day and the reusable pads while I am at home. That is how I maintained a fairly sustainable routine. Because, at the end of the day, sustainability is not about beating yourself up to use an eco-friendly product even if it doesn’t fit your lifestyle. It is about adopting an eco-friendly routine that you can sustain over time. And that is what Avni tries to provide, with its range of reusable as well as disposable menstrual products that are sensitive both to your health and the environment,” adds the 32-year-old entrepreneur.
India’s first menstrual health helpline
In her effort to contribute to the discourse of menstrual care and women’s health, Sujata has also created a special helpline that guides users through their transition from sanitary napkins to eco-friendly menstrual care products. It also answers various queries around menstrual health.
This #PeriodHelpline is a safe space where women can call on +919930446364 and reach out to an assigned ‘AvniBuddy’ for any relevant information or help.
“We are trying to create an expansive network of experts including pediatricians , educators, gynaecologists, psychologists, yoga masters, etc. who can not only provide valuable information but also enrich our helpline, and enhance the much-needed dialogue around menstrual and sexual health of women,” she says.
After connecting with 2000+ women via menstrual health workshops, she is confident that women are willing to switch to reusable menstrual products when adequately informed about the long term benefits and supported through the journey.
Sujata hopes that in time, both through the product portfolio and these initiatives, Avni will be able to make a lasting impact in the social fabric shrouding the much-needed conversation around women’s health and bodies. Find out more about Avni here.