Human Rights/Social Justice, Dec. 1, 2023, 8:46 p.m.

Tackling the scourge of nappies and sanitary waste - Absorbent Hygiene Product (AHP) waste

Author: Komani

Nappies and or sanitary pads, officially known as Absorbent Hygiene Product (AHP) waste, are fast becoming one of the most serious social and environmental health issues because of poor waste management in South Africa.

The problem is rooted in an ever-increasing population and a failing municipal service crippled by a lack of capacity and resources to effectively reach rural, informal and backyard dwellings, typically home to the most vulnerable in South Africa. Quantifying AHP waste within these dwellings is complex due to limited availability of data.

However, based on estimates, we can approximate that about 5.8 billion nappies and 540 million sanitary products are being generated within rural and informal dwellings. If one considers that 37% of households in South Africa do not receive regular waste service, the enormity of the problem becomes alarming.

This approximate quantification is based on unverified statistics but does reveal the need to -

1. Provide evidence to quantify the scope of AHP waste in informal and rural dwellings in SA

2. Quantify AHP user demographics of AHP’s

3. Determine impact AHP’s waste discarded outside the municipal system has on the people and their environment.

Towards this, the One Health AHP Waste Forum (OH-AWF) was established in 2020, comprising of numerous academic, public, private, and civil institutions and organisations who have banded together to develop a strategic approach to address AHP waste.

This forum’s approach centres on sound knowledge for effective decision making and therefore, between 2020 – 2023, we have conducted and coordinated numerous research studies to build our understanding around the AHP system dynamics within informal and rural communities. Outcomes of these studies reveal key insights paving a pathway towards sustainable AHP waste management.


This pathway for change was mapped by OH-AHF members during a mini conference funded by the National Research foundation and held in association with the Conservation Symposium 2023 between the 6 – 8 November 2023 at the Wild Coast Sun, Port Edward, Eastern Cape.


Priority action was determined, focusing on communities in rural, informal and backyard dwellings in which we will seek to:

1. Improve the current municipal AHP waste management system.
2. Work with key stakeholders to explore the circular economy in disposable AHP’s.
3. Explore opportunities to mainstream reusable products.
4. Initiate educational programmes to promote safe and responsible AHP waste disposal practices.
5. Contribute to informing principals on appropriate technological AHP waste management solutions.

These key objectives will be formulated into a three-year strategy (2023 – 2026) to guide the OH-AWF and inform AHP waste management industry role-players in SA. However, the success of this strategy to reduce the health and environmental impacts of AHP waste outside of formal dwellings in SA is dependent on strong partnerships and collaboration between the public, private and civil sectors of society.


"The lack of menstrual products infringes on the many human rights of girls and women, and, most importantly, health rights, which are the most detrimental. In South Africa more than seven million girls and women every year cannot afford sanitary pads. Therefore, thousands of schoolgirls are missing up to thirty percent of school attendance in a calendar as a result.

Promoting menstrual equity is key to support schoolgirls, especially those living in remote rural areas, preventing them from dropping out of school.

Moreover, the lack of access to sanitary pads can significantly impact schoolgirls life affecting their overall well-being, health, and ability to perform their tasks effectively.

TUF is currently looking for partnership with private and public sector enterprises to provide KOMANI reusable pads to disadvantaged schoolgirls in poor communities across South Africa to empowering and educating schoolgirls on menstrual hygiene management. "

For any further information and to partner with TUF please contact:
Ms Gisella Reale
TUF Fundraising Manager
Cell 072 2669656