Bloody periods. Okay let’s just get this out in the open: all of us women for about thirty years of our lives have periods, and they are bloody. Yes it is a bit of a sensitive and personal thing to talk about them (and yes, they are a bit of a nuisance every month), but I don’t think we should be embarrassed and we certainly shouldn’t see them as dirty or disgusting (think of the language that is used around feminine ‘hygiene’).
In this Green Living series we are thinking about some of the many areas in which we can make changes in our lives to help take care of this world, and I want to encourage you to think about the products that you use each month when you’ve got your period.
Our culture teaches us to assume that we will use disposable tampons and pads and hardly any of us questions that. On average, each of us will use around 120 – 125 kg of such products.
There are three basic problems with this:
In the UK, the use of tampons, pads and applicators generates more than 200,000 tonnes of waste per year. Most of us now know not to flush them down the toilet (although many women still do), but putting them into our rubbish bins doesn’t make them disappear – it simply puts them somewhere else, where they rot, producing methane and other harmful gases. For those that are still flushed down the toilet, they can often end up in our water systems. Indeed, a Beachwatch survey in 2010 found that every kilometre it surveyed had 22.5 towels/pantyliners/backing strips, and 8.9 tampon applicators on it.
Have you ever thought about the millions of kilos of sanitary products that are manufactured each year? The production of all those products uses an enormous amount of energy. In addition, they are made from a mixture of wood pulp, cotton and rayon (depending on the product), which all need to be sourced from somewhere. Cotton, in particular, is a problem crop: the thirstiest crop in the world, and grown using large amounts of pesticides and fertiliser, and can also involve social abuses (including pesticide poisoning).
There are concerns over the health impacts of using disposable sanitary products. The chlorine bleaching of the raw materials can produce dioxins; the synthetic ingredients used (including fragrances) often contain harmful chemicals (why would we want such unnatural substances so close to, or in, our bodies?), and using tampons carries the rare danger of Toxic Shock Syndrome (although not 100% cotton tampons). I knew someone who ended up in hospital once with TSS and it wasn’t fun.
So What Can We Do?
- Be willing both to talk about these things and to break out of the cultural taboos and expectations that exist around this subject.
- If you want to stick with disposable products then use organic cotton ones which avoid some of the problems associated with non-organic cotton and are biodegradable. Natracare are one of the best for this and are a great environmentally-friendly option that I have used and would recommend.
- Use washable pads. These can be easily washed and dried after use. Just google ‘reusable sanitary products’ and you will find a plethora of options.
- Use a menstrual cup. This is inserted inside the vagina, and collects the blood which you can then empty down the toilet or a sink, rinse out and re-insert. Personally, I think this is the best option. I have been using one (a Mooncup) for years now. It took a small amount of getting used to initially because it is so counter-cultural, but now I don’t think anything of it. It has also saved me a lot of money!
So I hope this is helpful, and I’d love you to tell me: what do you think?
 The statistics in this article are taken from http://www.wen.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/environmenstrualweb1.pdf
Brave subject! I’ve been using my mooncup for years too – one of the things i really like about it is that you don’t have to carry spare tampons around with you!
agreed, so much easier. My tip for when you’re out and about is to use a disabled toilet if you can because that has a sink right there to wash it out in without anyone else seeing!
Did try the mooncup for a few months, but flood so badly as to make removal very awkward, (read very messy), especially in a public loo … nearly done with the whole thing now, but would perhaps try the washable ones if I had to go again
Not sure I would be brave enough to use one, as I absolutely flood when I do have a period. I was using Natracare for quite a while and they were lovely. I use Naturella now when I can get them – problems of living in rural Latvia. If I wasn’t so close to finishing with the whole business, I would definitely be looking into reusables – It’s just at the moment I keep thinking that I could have my last period ever and it can’t come quick enough as far as I am concerned 😀
I have been using washable sanitary towels at night for years now – they’re a great development. I have a Mooncup too, but have had trouble with it and still use Natracare non-applicator tampons. I try hard to reduce my impact on the environment and hope to find a menstrual cup that is comfortable and easy for me to use. Thank you for this post!
you’re welcome, Kate, thanks.
Thanks for these comments. With the mooncup I have to empty it quite often when I’m at my heaviest, and on those days/nights I often use a slim pad as well just in case. Then as I get lighter I don’t have to do that and often only have to empty it once a day.