3 Powerful Ways To Make Your Period More Environment-Friendly
Every month, the habit of most menstruators is the same: slap a disposable pad or unwrap a tampon, and life goes on. However, this mindless habit can have heavy consequences on the planet and your health too.
Disposable tampons and pads are the most used menstrual products. Studies in the UK show that 93% of women who menstruate (either regularly or irregularly) use sanitary pads, panty liners, or tampons. The average menstruator uses more than 11,000 disposable menstrual products in their lifetime – based on 37.5 years of menstruation using 22 items of menstrual products per cycle, 13 cycles per year. That’s a busload of waste for one person and many are unaware of the risky ingredients that these products can contain.
Manufacturers aren’t required to disclose ingredients in tampons and pads in Europe. Most of them contain nonbiodegradable — and potentially toxic — plastic and other synthetic materials (bleached and nonorganic cotton, pesticides, fragrances...). See our last blog post on the subject.
The composition of these products also matters from an environmental standpoint, given the staggering amount of waste ― and pollution ― they generate every year: Worldwide, it’s estimated that over 100 billion menstrual hygiene products are disposed of annually. In North America alone, about 20 billion sanitary napkins, tampons, and tampon applicators — which are not recyclable, since they’ve been in contact with human waste — are dumped into landfills yearly.
Since these items contain plastic, which does not biodegrade, it’ll take at least 500 to 800 years for each pad and tampon to decompose. When incinerated — a common practice in some developing nations — these products release toxic fumes, including carbon dioxide.
A recent report by the European Commission concluded that disposable menstrual products are the fifth most common type of waste washing up on beaches. How, you might be wondering, are pads and tampons ending up en masse in rivers and seas? The problem is that many people are flushing tampons ― and pads too ― down the toilet.
Flushed tampons, pads, applicators, and other items can end up clogging sewer pipes, which can cause untreated wastewater to overflow. This wastewater can eventually make its way to creeks, streams, and rivers.
Here are some other steps you could take to make your period more sustainable (and potentially healthier):
1. NEVER flush your menstrual products down the toilet
Nearly half of all menstruators in the U.K. say they flush their tampons. According to figures published in the Journal of the Institution of Environmental Sciences, about 2.5 million tampons, 1.4 million sanitary napkins, and 700,000 panty liners are flushed down the toilet in the U.K. every single day.
Even if flushed menstrual products make it to waste treatment plants, the material that’s captured there has to end up somewhere, and unfortunately, that can often end up near waterways.
Other than adding to the mammoth problem of ocean plastic pollution, experts say menstrual hygiene products that end up on beaches or waterways pose an additional threat of spreading possible disease and pathogens because of the bodily waste they contain. Communities living near waterways could be at risk, as could marine wildlife that often mistakes plastic products as food.
Not flushing tampons and pads down the toilet is one thing that everyone can do immediately to help enact change.
2. Choose reusable menstrual products
The menstrual cup is one product that’s been gaining in popularity. Usually made of medical-grade silicone, menstrual cups are inserted into the vagina, where they collect blood during menstruation. Menstrual cups are more convenient and comfortable than tampons and can be worn for 12 hours.
Cups come in a range of sizes and shapes, so having some understanding of your cervix size can help ensure you find a cup that works best for your body. Inserting and removing the cup can also take some getting used to. We have a full Menstrual Cup FAQ with hundreds of questions answered about them. If you don’t get it perfect the first time, don’t lose hope!
Other reusable options include period underwear, which is like normal underwear but can absorb flow without leaking if used correctly. Reusable pads made of sustainable materials are also an option.
Though reusable products are a bigger financial investment upfront compared to disposable menstrual hygiene products, reusables can ― in the long run ― save you thousands of dollars.
3. If you choose to use disposable products, choose organic and support transparent brands
There may, of course, be times when you need to use disposable menstrual hygiene products. If those occasions arise, opt for organic products when possible and choose brands that are transparent about the materials they use.
Here are our recommendations from our blog article about tampons and chemicals:
- Whatever menstrual product you're using, follow the manufacturer's guidelines carefully as far as wearing time goes (expect no more than 8 hours for tampons and 12 hours for menstrual pads) - to reduce TSS risk
- Whatever menstrual product you're using, wash your hands carefully before and after "applying" your product
- If you really want to use tampons, choose your brand meticulously. Things you must look for are certified organic (no synthetic fibers or pesticides), dye-free, chlorine-free bleaching, no fragrances and ideally low absorbency (less than 12g)
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