Gap in solid waste management in India and impact on sanitary waste disposal, menstrual hygiene and health of girls and women

Urmila Chanam
Posted October 29, 2020 from India
Bellahalli landfill Bangalore (2019 image)
Bellahalli landfill Bangalore (2019 image) is overfilled and in crisis
Inputs from the Khud Karo/Do It Yourself National Competition on Menstrual Waste Management serves to clarify the correlation between the state of solid waste management to sanitary waste disposal and menstrual hygiene and health of 355 menstruating girls and women in India (1/1)

Ways to bring change

Mahatma Gandhi, one of the most profound figures in India’s freedom struggle also worked to free the country from other forms of bondage like open defecation and the practice of untouchability. Gandhi said, “Change yourself. If you change yourself, you will change the world.” He believed, “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” He set the example by building a toilet inside his cottage and cleaned it himself which was unheard of in those times when toilets were considered polluting and done by low caste people. His actions paved way to a great shift in the mindset of the mass and resulted in the abolition of untouchability and the seed of swacch bharat or clean India was sown.

When we study the solid waste management scenario in India, we find that several initiatives have been taken by the government and authorities and a lot may have been  achieved in terms of policy and adoption of new technologies but real change is yet to be witnessed and evidently, there remains one area which requires attention and that is, lack of people's involvement and commitment in waste management in their homes. People’s indifferent attitude towards sanitary and menstrual waste has made management of menstrual waste even tougher for the municipality and civic workers.

Do it yourself

On the lines of Gandhian principle of people’s involvement to bring change, the Khud Karo (translation: do it yourself) National Competition on Management of Menstrual Waste was organised by Breaking the Silence Worldwide Foundation on social media in August and September this year with an objective to create awareness on waste as a subject, nature of crisis but more importantly, build social responsibility towards waste management including sanitary waste disposal.

Menstrual hygiene and household waste management are correlated to each other. A house with poor waste disposal facility compromises collection and disposal of soiled sanitary pads which in turn adversely impacts menstrual hygiene and health among girls and women in the household, school, college or workplace who are most likely to keep wearing a sanitary pad for long hours. Do you know due to shame, secrecy and silence around menstruation, they go to great lengths to hide used and soiled pads?

Additionally, sanitary waste generators lack understanding and fail to assign importance and take ownership towards correct disposal which has implications on other people like the waste pickers and civic workers, and on the ecology?

Basic understanding on waste management scenario and the entire chain through which soiled sanitary pads go through till they reach their final destination in a landfill can go a long way in changing the menstrual waste crisis in India.

The competition

Nongmaithem Jerina from Imphal, Khumlo Gomti from Chandel in Manipur, Godwin Bosco from Kochi in Kerala and Dipak Sinha from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh were adjudged as winners in a prize giving ceremony conducted online on Gandhi Jayanti on 2nd October 2020.

Story of each household

Nongmaithem Jerina, a Master in Social Work (MSW) student in discussing the local state of waste management in Imphal puts the spotlight on how localities do not have garbage bins where residents can dispose household waste leaving no choice but to either store waste in the premises of their homes till the time the private organisations into collection of waste get it picked up for a monthly service charge, and those who cannot avail of the service throw waste in the drains or pile them around their houses. Citizens may be sensitized and even willing to participate but the absence of a city- based waste collection, transportation, segregation, processing and recycling, and landfill mechanism anchored by the local authority and supported by civil society organisations can cause confusion and passiveness in waste generators. When a comprehensive waste management system does not exist on ground, the issue of sanitary waste goes unaddressed.

Khumlo Gomti Khining, an Anganwadi Worker discusses how all waste management initiatives are concentrated around the district headquarters leaving residents to fend for themselves. The collection and transportation to dumping site mechanism run by the Autonomous District Council in Chandel is concentrated only around the bazaar area residents in rural Manipur do not depend on external facilities for managing household waste as house to house collection is non- existent and manage household waste themselves in their back yards either through burning or storing them.

Godwin Bosco who works at Cognizant Technology Solutions in Kochi points out that household waste disposal is running smoothly in Kerala since there is an effective waste collection system run by the municipality but their challenge is the final dump yard which has become the site for pollution caused by burning waste. Their need is to develop an effective method for waste processing.

Dipak Sinha a central government officer posted in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh attributes his passion for conservation of resources and recycling at home to his growing up years spent in Shillong among Khasis who according to him are exemplary in maintaining cleanliness and conserving the environment.

Through the Khud Karo National Competition a consolidation of ground realities in waste management existing in different parts of India was possible through the insight shared by participants along with a conclusion that no investment in waste management by the authorities, NGOs and partners can result in clean neighbourhoods and safe environment till each unit viz., the household, does its part with their garbage.

Note: This article was originally published in The Morning Bell on 29th October 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments 11

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Hello, Sis Urmila,

Congratulations on the winners of Khud Karo National Competition on the Management of Menstrual Waste! This is such an informative article. You are right that menstrual hygiene and household waste management go hand-in-hand. Your project hits two birds in one stone! I love this quote from Gandhi, “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” So true, and you are living this effectively, dear sister.

I'm in awe at how your advocacy is growing through time. I'm proud of you, sister Urmila! Thank you for sharing this post with us.

Urmila Chanam
Nov 23
Nov 23

Dearest Karen,
Thank you for reading and agreeing that a city or country cannot successfully manage/dispose the used sanitary napkins and other disposables like diapers, tampons etc till there exists a robust solid waste management system in place. This is why most of the times systems don't work because they are all linked to each other; if one does not work, others don't work too. How are things in Philippines sister- do you have a good waste management system?

Much love and hugs from India,
Urmila Chanam

You're welcome, dear sis Urmila. Ah no...the reason we have a lot of flooding when storms come is that we have a poor waste management system in general.

Love and hugs to you!

Beth Lacey
Nov 23
Nov 23

Hello, my sister. I am happy to read about these very worthy winners of the Khud Karo National Competition

Urmila Chanam
Nov 23
Nov 23

Dearest Beth,
They are indeed "worthy" sister. I found each one of them is special in their own lives and context and even after the competition is over, they are still engaged in waste management and other noble causes.
Much love and wishes,
Urmila Chanam

Julie Desai
Nov 23
Nov 23

fantastic initiative

Urmila Chanam
Nov 23
Nov 23

Thank you Julie Desai. We are developing a full fledged program on household waste management based on capacity building and advocacy. Have a good day!

Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi

Dear Urmila,
Hope you are well and thank you for sharing this very informative article. You are really doing such a great job around menstral hygiene. Keep us posted on your progress.
Stay blessed and take care.

Urmila Chanam
Nov 24
Nov 24

Dearest sister Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi,
Thank you for reading, I am grateful to you. Though our major program is menstrual health and hygiene, we have integrated more programs in our capacity building and advocacy with effect from this year sister. Household waste management, family planning, women's digital skills and empowerment. I hope you will join us in one of our online events and programs.
Much love,
Urmila Chanam

Millynairi
Nov 27
Nov 27

Hello Urmila,
A great article. Quite informative. Glad to see the winners. Great work on menstrual hygiene. Keep it up dear.

Urmila Chanam
Dec 02
Dec 02

Dearest sister Milly,
How are you, sister? What is going on your side? I know we are all impacted by the pandemic atleast in terms of workflow and livelihoods or opportunities. I am praying things return to how they used to be earlier. Thanks a lot for your warm wishes.
Love and hugs,
Urmila Chanam