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
Thanks for bringing up this topic. The vast quantities of disposable pads used is also relevant to us who are post menopause but use pads for incontinence. I love the idea of a washable alternative.
I’m glad you mentioned “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).” In our rush to decrease plastic use, we need to be aware of these facts.
Thanks again, Eva
Thanks so much Eva, I’m glad you found this helpful. All the best 🙂
Another option is a great company called Modibodi which make leak-proof underwear from bamboo. It is high quality and fantastic.
Thank you so much, Ruth, This is so important, yet it gets skimmed over due to embarrassment, gender inequalities, consumer decisions made by many male managers etc., even though it affects 51% UK population for a large proportion of our adult lives. (Apparently there are more women than men here.)
Even Environment Plymouth, who have achieved so much in the struggle to reduce plastic waste, hardly give it a mention. Could I please quote you and would you send me a link I could put with a comment on their website? I’m not great with technology, but this information needs to be put out there. Perhaps you might add it yourself, if you prefer. They (we) can be found on environmentplymouth.org
P.S. I don’t think this is “for us ladies only.” Men should be more aware of what being a woman is all about.
Dear Jenny, I’m so so sorry I didn’t reply to you before – I’m terrible at checking comments and have only just seen this!
You’re very welcome to use my post if that’s still relevant.
Thank you for your encouragement and best wishes.