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Addressing Environmental and Health Impact: Eco-friendly Solutions for Sanitary Pad Waste Management

Dr. R.M.L.D Rathnayake Senior Lecturer - Environmental Engineering Laboratory, Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya


Sanitary pads bring comfort and hygiene to millions of menstrual people worldwide. However, the production techniques behind these basic products can have a huge environmental impact. This article investigates the environmental impact of sanitary pad production and use and possible long-term pollution mitigation methods.

The environmental impact of manufacturing and using sanitary pads

The sanitary pad market is growing quickly and is expected to continue growing, as shown in Figure 1. A complicated supply chain is involved in the production of sanitary pads, from the extraction of raw materials to manufacturing and distribution. One of the main causes of concern is the use of non-biodegradable materials in pad production, such as plastics, synthetic fibers, and chemical adhesives. These materials produce hazardous compounds during production and disposal, which adds to the accumulation of non-biodegradable waste.

Figure 1: The sanitary pad market’s trajectory in recent years and its projected growth for the future.

As depicted in Figure 2, sanitary pads typically come in multiple layers, and research has shown that traditional pads can include up to 90% plastic; the absorbent core is produced out of sodium poly acrylate, a derivative of crude oil; the top layer is made of polypropylene, and the back sheet is made of polyethylene (Briain et al., 2020). Interestingly, four plastic bags are equivalent to one sanitary pad (Niveda and Ramakrishnan, 2023). It is reported that every year, 300 billion sanitary pads are used and disposed of worldwide. These materials stay intact in landfills for more than 500–600 years (Mistry et al., 2023). Moreover, manufacturing frequently uses large amounts of energy and water, which pollutes water supplies and releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.




Figure 2: Typical multi-layer structure of a conventional sanitary pad (Image courtesy from https://www.glamcheck.com)

Improper disposal of sanitary pads can cause serious blockages in wastewater systems, resulting in various environmental and public health problems. When sanitary pads are flushed down toilets, they can become lodged in sewage pipes, obstructing the flow of wastewater and causing backups and overflows in sewage systems (Kaur, Kaur, and Kaur, 2018). These blockages can also lead to pump failures at wastewater treatment plants, disrupting operations and increasing the risk of environmental contamination from untreated sewage spills into water bodies.

Research indicates that sanitary pads are a significant source of micro plastics (Lychees, Engel, and Tesoro, 2021). When micro plastics enter the human body through ingestion, inhalation, or dermal contact, they can cause severe health issues. For example, a recent study found that micro plastics may increase the risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems in individuals with heart disease, doubling the risk of stroke or heart attack (Asiwe and Oritsemuelebi, 2024). Additionally, recent research has reported a close relationship between micro plastics and human cancers (Segovia‐Mendoza, 2020; Sharma et al., 2020). Therefore, the release of micro plastics from sanitary pads is an emerging health concern.

Addressing the Issue with Sustainable Approaches

Sustainable sanitary pad management is crucial for environmental preservation and public health. This article explores innovative alternatives to conventional sanitary pads and outlines best practices for their disposal.

Recent eco-friendly innovations in sanitary pad productions

Transitioning from conventional synthetic materials to organic and biodegradable alternatives offers a significant opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of sanitary pad production. Materials such as organic cotton, bamboo fibers, banana fiber, and other plant-based bioplastics can provide similar absorbency and comfort while reducing pollution and waste. For example, some leading sanitary pad manufacturers in the world have introduced sustainable menstrual products using organic cotton and biodegradable plant-based materials.

Further, promoting the use of reusable menstrual products, such as menstrual cups, cloth pads, and period underwear, can significantly reduce waste and resource consumption over time. These reusable options not only offer long-term cost savings and improved menstrual health but also provide a sustainable alternative to disposable pads. For example, a well-known menstrual cup brand offers a reusable product made from medical-grade silicone, providing leak-free protection for up to 12 hours and greatly reducing waste and environmental impact with proper care (Koskenniemi, 2023).

Recent eco-friendly innovations in sanitary pads in Sri Lankan market

In Sri Lanka, there is a growing interest in eco-friendly menstrual products as environmental awareness increases. Local brands are offering high-quality reusable cloth pads made from organic cotton and natural fibers, providing a sustainable alternative to disposable pads. Further, international brands are also available, offering menstrual cups made from medical-grade silicone that can be used for several years, significantly reducing waste. Biodegradable pads made from organic cotton and natural materials are accessible through eco-friendly stores, online platforms, and some supermarkets. Additionally, period underwear from various is available through online retailers and specialty stores.

However, initiatives promoting eco-friendly menstrual products need to be made more accessible through subsidized and educational programs, particularly in rural areas. Overall, the increased availability and awareness of these alternatives may contribute to a shift towards sustainable menstrual hygiene management in Sri Lanka.

Proper disposal practices

While it may be challenging to reduce the use of sanitary pads due to their essential role in maintaining menstrual hygiene, proper disposal practices can significantly lessen their environmental impact. By securely wrapping used pads and disposing of them in dedicated bins or regular waste bins instead of flushing them down toilets, individuals can help reduce pollution in waterways and prevent blockages in sewage systems. Even though sanitary pads are necessary, conscientious disposal is crucial for promoting sustainability and reducing environmental harm. Below, we outline proper disposal practices.

  • Wrapping used pads: After use, wrap the sanitary pad in its original wrapper or in a piece of newspaper to contain fluids and odors. Then, seal it tightly in a small bag or wrapper to prevent leakage and ensure hygienic disposal. When disposing of the wrapped sanitary pad, it is crucial to opt for the regular waste bin rather than flushing it down the toilet.
  • Using waste bins: Always dispose of wrapped sanitary pads in regular waste bins rather than flushing them down the toilet. This prevents blockages in sewage systems and reduces pollution in waterways. Use dedicated bins or disposal units specifically designed for feminine hygiene products in public restrooms or community spaces. These facilities ensure proper disposal and help minimize contamination of other waste streams, fostering a cleaner environment.
  • Use of biodegradable sanitary pads: Biodegradable sanitary pads are a crucial step towards achieving sustainable menstrual hygiene management. These eco-friendly alternatives offer several benefits that contribute to environmental preservation and public health.
  • Education and Awareness: Implement educational programs and awareness campaigns to inform individuals about proper disposal practices and environmentally friendly sanitary pad alternatives.

These initiatives should provide information on the environmental impact of improper sanitary pad disposal and promote eco-friendly alternatives where feasible.


Kaur, R., Kaur, K. and Kaur, R., 2018. Menstrual hygiene, management, and waste disposal: practices and challenges faced by girls/women of developing countries. Journal of environmental and public health2018.

Luchese, C.L., Engel, J.B. and Tessaro, I.C., 2021. Disposable, reusable, and biodegradable hygiene products. In Antimicrobial Textiles from Natural Resources (pp. 421-454). Woodhead Publishing.

Briain, O.Ó., Mendes, A.R.M., McCarron, S., Healy, M.G. and Morrison, L., 2020. The role of wet wipes and sanitary towels as a source of white microplastic fibers in the marine environment. Water Research182, p.116021.

Koskenniemi, A., 2023. Say no to shame, waste, inequality—and leaks! Menstrual activism in the market for alternative period products. Feminist Media Studies23(1), pp.19-36.

Niveda, R. and Ramakrishnan, G., 2023, February. Development of Cost-Effective, Eco-Friendly Sanitary Pads for Better Health and Sanitation of Rural Women. In International Conference on Functional Textiles & Clothing (pp. 289-294). Singapore: Springer Nature Singapore.

Mistry, P.A., Konar, M.N., Latha, S., Chadha, U., Bhardwaj, P. and Eticha, T.K., 2023. Chitosan superabsorbent biopolymers in sanitary and hygiene applications. International Journal of Polymer Science2023, pp.1-14.

Asiwe, J.N. and Oritsemuelebi, B., 2024. Environmental toxicant-mediated cardiovascular diseases: an insight into the mechanism and possible preventive strategy. Toxicology and Environmental Health Sciences, 16(1), pp.1-19.

Segovia‐Mendoza, M., Nava‐Castro, K.E., Palacios‐Arreola, M.I., Garay‐Canales, C. and Morales‐Montor, J., 2020. How microplastic components influence the immune system and impact on children health: Focus on cancer. Birth defects research112(17), pp.1341-1361.

Sharma, M.D., Elanjickal, A.I., Mankar, J.S. and Krupadam, R.J., 2020. Assessment of cancer risk of microplastics enriched with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Journal of Hazardous Materials398, p.122994.

https://www.glamcheck.com)/fashion/2010/05/19/what-are-sanitary-pads-types/structure-parts-of-a-sanitary-pad/ (visited on 26th May 2024)


Dr. R.M.L.D Rathnayake
Senior Lecturer – Environmental Engineering Laboratory, Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya


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