• This waste pickers’ collective has a solution for sanitary waste problems

    The taboo around menstruation ensures that when we buy sanitary napkins, they are often wrapped individually while being packed in batches, later covered in newspaper and perhaps even an a black plastic bag. This level of precaution rarely exercised when we do need it, when it’s time to dispose sanitary waste. Gazal Shekhawat reports from Pune.

    This waste, (which includes pads and diapers) poses not only severe health hazards but also erodes the dignity of those who handle it. Here is when a Pune based waste-picker collective, SWaCH comes into the picture.

    Instead of ferociously covering unused pads with layers, let’s instead prepare our sanitary waste for a little more dignity.

    Along with the Pune Municipal Corporation and the KKPKP waste picker trade union, SWaCH, a waste picker cooperative kicked off the “Red Dot” campaign. The idea is simple and calls for people to wrap their sanitary waste in a newspaper and mark it with a red dot. By wrapping the waste correctly and putting a mark that identifies sanitary waste, waste pickers can then be careful and handle it accordingly.

    The cooperative has also come up with creative ways to spread the message. These include a one minute video, posters and the pushcarts for waste management which have been stencil painted with the red dot imagery. The video, which puts forward the question, ‘What if you had sanitary waste in your workplace?’ has been shared across platforms such as Youtube, Facebook, Whatsapp and Vimeo and is generating positive responses. Along with the Red Dot stickers, t-shirts, mugs, and even mini paper pushcarts all making their way into the public, the cooperative hopes that people will no longer be able to avoid the subject of sanitary waste.

    “SWaCH manages 20 tonnes of unwrapped sanitary waste every day, which is a serious health risk for us.  Now it’s time for citizens to take closer look at this problem and show their support by wrapping and marking their sanitary waste,” says waste picker Mangal Gaikwad, who is also featured in the Red Dot video. Waste-pickers are also being trained to conduct extensive door-to-door outreach on the subject.  The campaign coincides with a year-long training program to improve their advocacy capacity and awareness of sanitation issues.  For example, they are learning that unwrapped sanitary waste exposes them to harmful pathogens like staphylococcus, hepatitis, E coli, Salmonella, Typhoid, etcetera.

    Waste-pickers are also being trained to conduct extensive door-to-door outreach on the subject.  The campaign coincides with a year-long training program to improve their advocacy capacity and awareness of sanitation issues.

    While the campaign has gathered momentum, the actions of citizens will narrate its real success. “A lot of citizens have started giving us sanitary waste with the red dot…The video has transpired everywhere but the campaign will make sense when the waste pickers start getting waste which has red dots.” says Aparna Sursarla from SWaCH, who is behind the campaign. While the Red Dot campaign started as a city wide initiative, proactive solutions to deal with sanitary waste are needed across the country. One can only hope that the idea is picked up in diverse regions. It not only keeps in mind the people handling sanitary waste but also breaks taboo around sanitary napkins. Instead of ferociously covering unused pads with layers, let’s instead prepare our sanitary waste for a little more dignity.

     

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