In this blog, we’re chatting to the Women’s Environmental Network all about the problem with mainstream period care. Find out how damaging mainstream period products are to the environment and how to green up your period.
Why should we have to comprise our health and the health of the planet, to take care of the very natural phenomenon that is menstruation?
What’s the problem with conventional period care?
One big problem is that multinational consumer goods giants continue to put profit interests above consumer’s health and the well being of the planet! But with the impending climate crisis, we’re seeing women and people who menstruate (especially young people) increasingly wanting to buy period care brands that come with a side of values and sustainability.
The good news is, many brands and people across the globe are working hard to rid the environment of single-use plastic. Plastic pollution from conventional menstrual products is gaining more attention than ever before. Plastic-free periods are starting to become mainstream. This is down to the cumulative campaigning work of countless activists, start-ups, organisations, water companies and waste authorities as seen via the Environmenstrual Coalition.
It’s time for the large corporations who hold a monopoly on making period products to move beyond half-hearted promises. They can incrementally reduce harm to the planet. The time is ripe to make pivotal change when it comes to environmental pollution from period products and their negative health impacts. It shouldn’t just be about us consumers making the switch to more sustainable period care. Corporations need to step up and take the lead in making the switch – for transformational betterment of the environment and menstrual health!
A friendly reminder to not flush your period care…
Period waste that ends up in our oceans and on our beaches comes from people flushing period products. This is totally preventable by remembering only to flush the 3 P’s – pee, poo, and paper.
Did you know menstrual items are one of the top five most commonly found single-use plastic item found on European beaches? Things like tampons and tampon applicators (which are used for seconds but last forever!) are sadly flushed so frequently, but unfortunately never forgotten. I’m sure our marine animal friends can confirm!
How does the amount of plastic in period care impact the environment?
Up to 90% of a period pad and 6% of a tampon is plastic
Plastic is sadly a predominant material used in conventional period care, from the wrappings to the plastic applicators. You will find absurd quantities of plastic in the typical products offered on supermarket shelves and their packaging. Menstrual products are not sterile, despite the whiter than white appearance and individually wrapped pads and tampons. They are not medical devices in the UK, so all the plastic packaging is a wasteful illusion.
It’s been estimated that up to 90% of a period pad and 6% of a tampon is plastic. The rest of a pad is wood pulp and tampons are a mixture of cotton, rayon, or a mix of both. Plastic tampon applicators are made from Polyethylene (PE) and Polypropylene (PP). Even the string attached to a tampon can be made from PE or PP.
The thing about plastic is that it never goes away, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces.
Unfortunately, just swapping plastic for so called “biodegradable” plastic is not the solution either. The breakdown of bioplastics depends on variety of factors. In fact, some bioplastics are just as environmentally persistent as their fossil-fuel based counterparts! Meanwhile, they can still end up in a marine creature’s stomach!
How do conventional period care products contribute to carbon emissions?
The average woman or person who menstruates throws away up to 200kg of menstrual products in a lifetime. A year’s worth of a typical menstrual product leaves a carbon footprint equivalent of 5.3 kg CO2. This is because period plastic is made from the non-renewable fossil fuels and the plastic production releases an unwarranted amount of toxic pollution.
The average woman can spend cumulatively 10 years of their life menstruating, so you can only imagine the overall impact. Not only that, but if the plastic doesn’t end up polluting landfill or the environment – it’s incinerated, releasing even more toxic pollutants.
How can organic and reusable period care products make a difference, to protect the planet?
It has been estimated that, in the European Union, nearly 50 billion units of single-use menstrual products were consumed in 2017, equating to an annual generation of around 590,000 tonnes of waste.
Let’s turn to the sustainable alternative solutions that are out there. Some of these include organic cotton tampons and reusable menstrual cups. Organic and reusable period care can make a massive positive difference. They are much kinder to the planet than their plastic and chemical-ridden disposable counterparts.
– Reusables like the menstrual cup can result in a 99% reduction in waste compared to single-use products.
– A single pair of period underwear can replace 100 or more disposable pads or tampons.
– One cloth pad is the equivalent of 75 disposable pads.
Organic, plastic-free disposables are a good alternative if you’re not ready to make the switch to reusables.
By switching to certified organic cotton products for just two of your periods, you could save enough water for 1 person to live off for 900 days! You could also conserve 72% of the energy needed to produce conventional cotton and reduce the water used by 91%.
What’s your top tip for anyone looking to have an eco-friendlier period?
Whatever part of your period journey you’re on, self-education is key! If you’re ready to make the switch to reusable menstrual products, great! If you’re not quite there yet, that’s fine too. Choosing your period products is an extremely personal choice. Weigh up the pros and cons:
– Does switching to a menstrual cup help you do your bit to save the planet?
– Is switching to reusables easier on your wallet in the long-term?
– Could you mix-and-match using organic period care during the day and using reusable pads at night?
– If you want to keep using disposables, why not make sure you dispose of them in the bin and never flush them down the loo?
There are so many ways you can make a difference. Every person with a period is unique. I’d say, give organic products and reusables a go and just transition to what feels right for you and the planet.
What’s the goal of the Enviromenstrual campaign?
The Environmenstrual Campaign is a campaign for people, periods and the planet! It’s a movement to make plastic pollution from period products a thing of the past. We take action to champion healthy, eco-friendly menstrual products for everyone. We do this through education and collective public action across sectors, regions and networks.
How can people get involved with and support the campaign?
1. Take part in the 3rd annual Environmenstrual Week of Action from 19th October – 25th October by keeping an eye on this space.
2. Educate yourself. Check out our resources here.
3. If you are an organisation or business that wants to improve the availability of sustainable menstrual products in the UK, join the Environmenstrual Coalition.
4. Sign-up for money-off codes from some of our favourite sustainable period care brands!
You recently launched the Environmenstrual Ambassadors Programme to educate young people and community groups, can you tell us a bit about this and what it strives to achieve?
In 2018, Wen (Women’s Environmental Network) launched the Environmenstrual Campaign to raise awareness about hidden plastic and chemicals in conventional period care. A crucial part of the campaign includes a workshop programme, delivered by our specialist team, in schools, universities, workplaces and community groups.
We want to make Environmenstrual period education more accessible and open-sourced. Anybody can be an Environmenstrual advocate and we found that there are so many amazing individuals out there who are passionate about the issues and spreading the word. Through the generous support of Waitrose’s Plan Plastic Fund, we have been able to launch our flagship Environmenstrual Ambassador Programme. The aim of the programme is to provide period education workshops on the environmental, health, and social contexts of menstruation to the general public.
We’ve trained up 50 Ambassadors from over twenty localities across the UK to deliver FREE Environmenstrual education. Their goal is to provide young people and adults with all of the information they need to make informed choices about which menstrual products to use. To find your nearest Ambassador and learn more about the programme, check here.
Initially through the Environmenstrual Ambassador Programme we’re expecting to reach over 3,000 people. The programme is a catalyst for change to mainstream products and to normalise plastic-free periods. We hope to scale it up with further support!
Thanks so much to Wen for this informative blog! Have you recently made a change to green up your period? Let us know in the comments below!