Georga Mcnally – a Catalyse Change Ambassador – has written us this great blog from our masterclass last month on Green Periods. Jess Gitsham – WEN & City to Sea Ambassador – led this for us during Environmenstrual Week.
What is environmenstrual WEEK & why is it important?
Environmenstrual campaigning aims to raise awareness about the environmental and chemical dangers of conventional period products whilst also promoting the use of organic and reusable products. Lack of education and negative societal attitudes towards periods and period products means that many people who use period products are completely unaware of their health impacts and of alternatives. It aims to raise awareness and offer solutions for having green periods.
Impact on the Environment
Up to 90% of a menstrual pad is made of plastic, whilst up to 6% of a tampon is plastic, leading to more than 20,000 tonnes of waste being generated. To give an image of the size of 20,000 tonnes of weight, it is nearly two times the weight of the Eiffel Tower. Additionally, 7% of the plastic found on beaches generated by items we have flushed, with 48 pieces of menstrual waste found per 100m of beach, causing 370,000 sewer blockages in the U.K. per year. Overall, this costs companies around £100 million per year. The lack of education and the treatment of periods as a taboo topic has resulted in people not knowing that nothing more than the #3Ps (Pee, Paper and Poo) should ever be flushed down the toilet.
Further, even for those who are aware menstrual products should not be flushed, there is still a serious information gap: the construction of menstrual products (one menstrual pad contains up to five carrier bags worth of plastic) and green alternatives. Consequently, waste generated by plastic, which takes between 500 and 800 years to degrade) harms 1 million sea birds, 100,000 sea mammals and marine turtles and countless fish every year.
In addition to the serious environmental damage, there is also a health concern with period products. Considering there is no regulation for the “ingredients” that make up period products, or about the level of transparency companies have to have regarding the products, i.e. no content information on the packaging, it is not surprising that some of the chemicals found in period products have the potential to cause serious harm. For instance, many companies offer fragranced pads, the chemicals in which can contain carcinogens, allergens, irritants and EDCs (chemicals which interfere with the way the body’s hormones work). Also, cotton is a very common material to use in menstrual products and is also one of the most heavily pesticide-sprayed crops, which remains in the fibres even after the cotton has been made into the intended product. The synthetic fibre (rayon) used in tampons has also been found have a strong correlation with Toxic Shock Syndrome, whilst chlorine and dioxin can also be found in menstrual pads.
Overall, it is clear to see that the treatment of periods as a taboo topic has not only resulted in serious environmental degradation, but it could lead to serious health issues for many people.
What are the alternatives?
Luckily, there are other options that will not only benefit the planet, but will also prevent the risk of a health problem in the future. For a non-reusable option, one alternative could be to switch to organic products, such as the products made by Natracare. Switching to organic cotton products for just two periods could save enough water for one person for 90 days, and also prevents health issues for the cotton farmers and their families.
However, there are many reusable options one could choose from that may have a higher initial cost, but over a lifetime could reduce spending on period products significantly. Firstly, there is the menstrual cup. Collecting rather than absorbing, the menstrual cup works exactly like a tampon, comes in a variety of sizes and softness/rigidness and should last ten years. To ensure it is cleaned, after use you just have to boil it and leave to dry. https://putacupinit.com/ is a key website to help guide you and find the right cup.
REUSABLE PANTS & PADS
A second option is reusable pads, which are just like non-reusable pads only instead of glue, they use buttons or poppers to keep the wings together. The materials used do vary and they can last up to five years, costing only around £6 per pad. To clean them you only need to put them in the washing machine, although do not wash at a temperature over 40 degrees or use fabric softener as they can both affect the absorbency of the pad.
Similar to the reusable pad, there is also reusable period underwear. With the same washing instructions as pads (although always check as there may be additional instructions depending on the company) these can last for 2-3 years. They also have the benefit of not shifting, like menstrual pads (both non-reusable and reusable) can sometimes do. Now being sold on the high street in shops like M&S, the reusable underwear is relatively affordable (prices vary by provider) and are comfortable. There is also period swimwear available.
Finally, for those who want to use organic tampons which are applicator free, there is a reusable applicator. Instructions for use are simple, you just insert the tampon into the applicator and then use as you would any other applicator. After use, rinse, ensure it is dry and then store in a clean case. The cost of this product is around £25, but of course is reusable so in the long run is quite cost effective. A good company for this option is Dame. Also, there are cardboard applicators available which can be disposed of in the compost bin.
*All information was sourced from a seminar with Jess Gitsham, WEN Ambassador, as part of Environmenstrual Week
For further information visit: WEN website