31 AUGUST 2007
THIS MONTH'S FEATURES
LITERATURE AND LITERACY
FACES OF CHANGE AND CHANGELESS PLACES
by ISA LORENZO
Environmental groups like Bangon Kalikasan Movement (BKM) say the mountains of trash in dumpsites like Payatas in Quezon City contain a very hefty share of soiled baby diapers and used sanitary napkins. The trash in Payatas has piled up to a towering 50 feet, equivalent to five stories. Seven years ago, a thousand people were killed when the trash came tumbling down on scavengers and those living in huts near the steaming mounds of garbage.
BKM convenor Annette Papa believes that the first environment is the person, and that people need to take care of themselves so that they can take care of the environment outside their personal space. Yet while women are usually active participants in green movements, few of them seem to realize that a product they buy month after month isn't eco-friendly at all.
It's bad enough that the disposable sanitary pad is for single use, which means more pressure on resources that are vital to its manufacture, aside from more waste headed for the dumpsite. The cover of the modern sanitary napkin, whether net-like or nonwoven, is also made of plastic, as are the bottom layers. Most napkins these days are packed individually in plastic, too, and then sold in multiples, which are, yes, in plastic packs. Plastic is nonbiodegradable. In dumpsites, says Papa, it contributes to toxic emissions, especially when mixed with heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and mercury. These emissions, which are mostly dioxins and furans, are carcinogenic, and can also cause tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases.
Mixed garbage produces methane gas as well, which Papa says contributes to global warming. In addition, plastic trash often clogs canals and waterways, thereby contributing to floods.
Its plastic components and no-fuss application are what make the modern sanitary napkin so convenient for today's multi-tasking woman. But women's studies professor Dr. Sylvia Estrada-Claudio says that once she became aware each time she threw away a sanitary napkin, she was generating nonrecyclable trash, she ceased to see disposable sanitary napkins as "convenient."
Environmental lawyer Ipat Luna also points out that it isn't only the plastic in disposable sanitary napkins that's harmful to the environment. "All the energy that would go into production, not just the pad itself, but the plastic, the waste material from the production process, the delivery — it's a very wasteful cycle altogether," she says. "And it's unnecessary. And when there is something to replace something that is unnecessary and that replacement is easy, it's a no-brainer."
THE MOST common "replacement" for the disposable sanitary napkin, of course, is the pasador, or those folded pieces of cloth that women a generation or two ago used whenever they had their monthlies. Luna says she began using a commercial version of the pasador — ordering a set of washable, 100-percent cotton napkins from the Internet - when she started to become irritated over the fact that she needed to throw away her sanitary pads. Six and half years later, her washable napkins are still in service.
Besides, she says, it wasn't as if she was satisfied with her disposables. "There are environmental choices where it's harder to make compromises on, but this one for me was easy, because to begin with, the product is horrible to me," says Luna. "(Disposable sanitary napkins are) just badly designed — they bunched up, they leaked, they scratched. And even this wings thing, they don't help. They don't conform to the contour of your private parts, so they just don't work."
Gynecologist Dr. Elsie Dancel herself says the fibers in disposable sanitary napkins can cause itchiness and irritation for women who have hypersensitive vulvar skin. Thirty to 40 percent of her patients, she says, complain of irritation due to sanitary pads. A few have gotten urinary tract infections (UTIs) that Dancel believes may have been caused by pressure elicited on the urethra as a result of using sanitary napkins. Other health experts, meanwhile, worry that the scents and gels in some pads — plus the chlorine bleach used to whiten the napkins and enhance their appearance — can cause skin irritations, among other things.
Dancel doubts that her own daughters would switch to reusable napkins. "They don't want to see the blood and everything," she says. All of her patients use disposable sanitary napkins.
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