Ok so I didn’t know this was a thing until very recently, but make sure you put 13th – 20th October into your diaries for the next ten years, because *drum roll please*…. it’s Environmenstrual Week! Yes you read that correctly. Never have two words squished together filed me with so much emotion; these are two things I care hugely about (the environment and smashing the taboo around menstruation…), so in all honesty, I’m pretty bloody excited…
So what exactly is it? Well, Environmenstrual Week was created by the Women’s Environment Network and aims to raise awareness of the harm caused to the environment (as well as our bodies) by traditional period products, especially when they’re not disposed of properly… *wags finger at people who flush products down the toilet. Naughty naughty*
What’s the issue with traditional products?
Women can get through over 11,000 disposable menstrual products in their lifetime, and the disposal of single use menstrual products generates 200,000 tonnes of waste a year! The Marine Conservation Society found that around half of UK women flush tampons down the loo, meaning that 1.5 – 2 billion menstrual items are flushed down Britain’s toilets each year, causing huge sewage and waterway issues.
As well as the waste in general, a huge amount of period products are made of plastic. Traditional tampons, pads and panty liners all contain plastic… With the average user throwing away around 150kg of disposable products during their lives, this plastic waste often ends up in landfill or – even worse – in seas, rivers and beaches.
Most menstrual pads are 90% plastic.
1 pack of disposable pads = 4 plastic bags
Almost all mainstream menstrual products seem to either contain or be entirely made up of plastic – right from their individual wrappers to the plastic applications. Yet, despite their bright white appearance and seemingly clinical nature, menstrual products are in fact not sterile, meaning their plastic packaging is entirely unnecessary. Most menstrual pads are 90% plastic, and the rest is wood pulp, whilst tampon applicators are made from Polyethylene (PE) and Polypropylene (PP) – two of the main plastics found in our oceans. In fact, even the string attached to a tampon is sometimes made from plastic…*face-palm*
The problem with plastic, as we all know too well, is that is never really goes away, but merely breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, ending up, most of the time, as a microplastic on our beaches and in our oceans. And while many believe the answer to lie in bioplastics, these can also end up killing wildlife if – or more likely, when – they end up in the ocean, as their breakdown depends on a range of factors and they can just as easily end up in the stomach of an animal.
Our oceans now contain as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles –
that’s 500 times more than the number of stars in our galaxy.
If there’s one place you don’t want to put nasty chemicals, it’s your vagina. Vulva and vaginal tissues are more permeable than the rest of your skin, which makes them especially vulnerable to chemicals and other irritants, and provides a direct entryway for nasty chemicals to circulate through the rest of our bodies. As if it wasn’t enough to be sticking foreign objects inside us during our periods for hours on end, for several days each month, most conventional tampons are actually made of viscose, rayon, polyester, polypropylene (plastic), bleached cotton (non-organic cotton being the worlds dirtiest crop), traces of dioxin, herbicides, pesticides and up to 3000 different fragrance chemicals!
Dioxin, which arises as a results of the bleaching process, is a particular issue, as it’s a known endocrine disruptor that can cause hormonal issues – and not just imbalances; endocrine disruptors also exacerbate fertility issues, thyroid conditions, PCOS, hormonal and cystic acne, thyroid conditions, endometriosis, and even some forms of cancer. It’s currently allowed simply because it’s at ‘trace’ level in each tampon… but with the average tampon user using up to 16,000 of these in their lifetime, that’s A LOT of unnecessary exposure…
As well as all the above, Environmenstural Week aims to break the taboo, and make a big noise about periods. Period shaming has a massive impact on the products we use and how we dispose of them, and changing social and cultural attitudes towards menstruation could have a major impact on our health and the environment.
We all deserve to have access to an affordable and healthy period – but for some this just isn’t possible. A study by Plan International UK from a survey of 1000 14 – 21 yr olds found that 10% of girls could not afford menstrual products. The study also found that 12% of girls had to improvise menstrual wear due to affordability issues and 14% had to ask to borrow menstrual products from a friend. Research by the maker of Always products showed a fifth of UK parents struggled to afford sanitary protection for their daughters – and over 135,000 girls missed out on school each year because of period poverty.
With the average menstruator spending more than £150 a year on sanitary products (with some claiming figures of up to £500), it’s time more was done. Promises of the tampon tax (currently at 5 per cent) being abolished this year have not been fulfilled. The fact that we’re still taxing tampons is madness to me – unless we’re using this tax as a subsidy for those who need them for free (which we’re not). It’s time sanitary products were seen for exactly what they are; a necessity that around 50% of the population will use at some point in their lives, and not a luxury.
What can I do?
So now you know about some of the major issues relating to tradition period products, you’re probably wondering what exactly you as an individual can do about it. Thankfully, there are a rapidly growing number of alternative products hitting the market, with some incredible brands working extremely hard to make sure that our periods are not only purse and planet friendly, but also kind to our bodies.
To help raise awareness of these brands, over the next few weeks I’m going to be reviewing some of the newest and most interesting alternatives out there – so make sure you stay tuned to read about what I find! I’ll be digging much deeper into all of the topics listed above.
Brands and products I’ll be trying out
One of the products that has got everyone talking are menstrual cups.
Menstrual cups, also sometimes just called ‘moon cups’ are small, ‘V – shaped’ devices normally made of silicone or rubber that are worn inside the vagina. They sit lower than a tampon and are designed to collect your flow inside the body. You fold them up and pop them in, and pull them back out when they’re full (usually every 4-6 hours), and empty them down the toilet. The great thing about these cups is that they’re totally reusable, and can last up to 10 years – that’s a lot of tampons saved. I’ll be trying out TOTM’s menstrual cup, but there are also other brands available, including Ruby Cup and OrganiCup.
You could also consider using reusable, washable pads, helping prevent a lot of waste and saving you lots of money.
If you’d rather stick with traditional period products, make sure you go for brands that uses certified organic cotton and plastic free tampons and pads that are bidegradable – like OHNE and TOTM. And whatever you do, don’t flush your disposables down the toilet – they belong in the bin. Even if a product is biodegradable, it can takes months to break down, and can block pipes and pollute marine environments in the process.
Want to go one step further? Demand the best and safest products for yourself and the environment by asking manufacturers & supermarkets for a full list of ingredients and materials used in menstrual product packs. And don’t forget to share on social and tag #PeriodAction.