Periods are a natural and healthy part of our lives, but the period products we use and the way we dispose of them can have a massive impact on the planet. Most of us are making an effort to reduce our use of plastics, but as menstruating is still considered a taboo subject in many cultures (including our own), the use of plastics in period products isn't often discussed.
Most menstrual pads are made from 90% plastic, and even the string of tampons is made from plastic. The disposal of single-use period products, including tampons, pads and applicators, generates 200,000 tonnes of waste a year. And that doesn't include the products that are flushed down the toilet.
A pack of menstrual pads is equivalent to 4 plastics bags and that equates to a lot of plastic pollution. Even if they are disposed of correctly, they most often end up in landfill, where they will release dangerous greenhouse gases whilst they break down. They also 'shed' their plastic, which leaches into the soil and waterways where it is consumed by fish and animals and absorbed by plants which we then eat.
In the last decade there has been a significant increase in the number of plastic-free and reusable period products available on the market, and the reusable period market is now worth £265.8 million annually.
Instead of using disposable menstrual pads there are some great reusable ones available which are made of fabrics including organic cotton, bamboo and even charcoal. These pads not only can be easily washed in a conventional washing machine, but they are also plastic and packaging-free guaranteeing an easy waste-free period.
The vagina is a highly absorptive organ, and a conventional tampon holds a huge array of toxic chemicals that can alter the hormone balance in the human body and even cause cancer. We can't help thinking that if this was a product made for men it would have been banned by now!
Why not try a menstrual cup as an alternative to tampons? The cup is inserted into the vagina like a tampon, but instead of absorbing the menstrual blood it is stored in the cup which is then washed out every few hours. They are made of surgical grade latex that doesn't contain the chemicals found in tampons, and they can last for up to ten years. They are a little pricy to begin with at around £35, and it's worth searching around for the right size and fit for your body, but they can pay for themselves in the first year. Saalt cup even has a handy quiz to help find the right menstrual cup for you.
Better Sewage and Water Services
With an estimated 1.2 billion period products being flushed down the toilet in the UK annually it's no wonder that we pay for this in our utility bills. Thames Water alone spends billions every year unblocking sanitary products, nappies and wet wipes from London’s aged sewage system. These blockages ultimately lead to the overflow of sewage and these products into the River Thames and other waterways.
If we as a population stopped flushing away these products our utility companies would have more money to spend on improvements to the sewage system and on water remediation technologies to improve our waterways. One day it may even be possible to swim in the River Thames, like in Copenhagen where you can swim anywhere in the city!
Instead of using tampons and pads which have to be disposed of (and often end up in our sewage systems), try using period pants. These can be used again and again, and are remarkably easy to use, unlike clunky pads and fiddly tampons. They are also great for wearing at night as they can easily be worn for hours at a time without the risk of leaks.
It's Time for Change
It's time to revolutionise the way we think about (and talk about) periods, and the period products we use. Reusable pads, menstrual cups and period pants are already great alternatives to the harmful plastic varieties, and the more demand there is for alternatives the more choice and better options there will be.