Being an eco-warrior and a woman, I’ve always felt that we aren’t given enough choice when it comes to period products. It’s really a bloody shame because big-brand disposable period products are not only a health hazard, but a potential hazard for the environment as well. In fact, menstrual products are currently the 5th most common item found on beaches across the world – more widespread than single-use coffee cups, cutlery or straws.
The struggle is real.
To be honest, the use of plastic in menstrual products is totally unnecessary and their harmful environmental impacts are completely avoidable, which is why I am lifting the lid on the hidden plastic in period products and campaigning through my series of blogs to make it easier for us to have plastic-free periods.
And, if there is one thing that I’ve realized about periods it is that even the most experienced eco-warrior tends to struggle with doing away with conventional period products and adopt more eco-friendly alternatives. It’s just not an easy switch and most women struggle with it. Not to mention the confusion around hidden plastic in regular period products.
The concern with mainstream period products
Here is a shot of reality. Period products are used for less than eight hours before being disposed of and can then take over 500 years to break down. More concerning is that most women wrongly dispose of tampons and pads by flushing them down the toilet, resulting in a massive 1.5 – 2 billion being flushed each year. The result? They enter the sewerage system and if not captured, they end up in our rivers and oceans and ultimately wash up on our beaches. Yuck!
How does plastics in menstrual products affect the environment?
Once they end up in the ocean their plastic content breaks down into smaller pieces, known as micro-plastics. These microplastics pose an immediate threat to vital eco-systems where they can enter the food chain. There have been quite a lot of incidents where marine creatures have been found with period pad plastic in their stomachs.
Now for the moment of truth.
Mainstream pads and tampons can contain up to 90% plastic, as well as other synthetic materials such as rayon, artificial fragrances, and toxic chemicals. These ingredients are known to cause endocrine-disruption that is linked to diseases such as infertility and cancer.
Since there hasn’t been enough scientific research carried out, we do not know the full health implications as a result of this. Think about this, we use period products from a young age, for around 40 years, and for up to eight hours at a time in direct contact with one of the most absorbent parts of our body. Therefore, more research is important and much needed.
Personally, I don’t need a doctor or researcher telling me absorbing plastic [and its components] in my vagina might be bad. Since they have already confirmed heating plastic in a microwave is bad for me, then I will simply assume that putting plastic in my vajayay is also bad for me.
So, what’s the solution?
At a personal level it’s all about cultural change and we should have a mindset to drift away from the throwaway culture. The concept of plastic-free periods is nothing new. The use of plastic-free, organic cotton tampons and pads that are home-compostable has been around for a while, but there hasn’t been sufficient awareness raised about them, plus the big PR machines of all the major brands have been at play.
In one of my podcast episodes, Elsbeth Callahan from The Practically Zero Waste Podcast, said “I was in university, and I was taking out the trash after I had just finished my period and I was like, this is ridiculous. This is so much garbage from one person from one menstruating human being from one cycle. And I was just so shocked. Because for the first time I was like, maybe really looking at these things and had maybe been thinking about reducing my waste for a little bit longer.
And then looked at that garbage bag. That was basically just me, that hurts a little. So, I looked at a lot of different menstrual cup options reusable pads. I sewed some of my own, I use a diva cup and it has been. I think I’ve been using the same diva cup for six years now. And so, it was like a big adjustment. And I just kind of become incredibly intimate with your bodily fluids as a zero-waste person. Not everybody has to, like, if you’re using yours, reusable handkerchief, or if you are, changing your menstrual cup, you’re going to become pretty close contact with stuff that comes from your body.”
While sewing your own reusable might not be a thing for everyone, I would recommend checking out a brand called Period Aisle, previously known as Lunapads, a groundbreaking venture that was one of the first brands in the world to champion natural menstrual care. Their products are innovative, made of planet-friendly materials, offer superior comfort and performance, along with peace of mind that everything we sell is ethically sourced and made. In fact, they have a lot of positive reviews that you can check out for yourself.
Remember change begins at home, with you yourself but also taking focused action, calling on manufacturers and retailers to remove plastic from their products, is also important. Full disclosure of ingredients on product packaging needs to be a legal requirement.
Talk it out.
Another is by starting conversations and raising awareness of this still seemingly little-known problem. Women are more prepared to talk about their periods, plus there’s this enormous plastic-free revolution going on now. The mindset change needs to be set on a young generation making new habits because the use of menstrual products start at an early age.
In my opinion, these options should be taught in school too. Many school districts teach about the use of condoms, so they should also teach those who are menstruating, or soon starting the menstrual cycle, about safer, healthier menstrual products. After all, this topic effects their personal health and the health of our planet.
If you know of a teacher offering this advice to students, please introduce me to that teacher. I would love the opportunity to speak with that person, and hopefully interview them on my podcast.
We should know exactly what is in the products we put in and around such an intimate area of our bodies. I wouldn’t put a plastic bag down there, I’m sure you wouldn’t as well.
This article is part of a series on possible solutions to one of the world’s most stubborn problems. What else should we cover? Email me at [email protected]
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