We’ve long given up our coffee cups, water bottles and plastic straws. We’ve bought the cute linen shopping totes and tried our hand at cloth nappies. But what about your period? Is your Period plastic free? And if not, Why aren’t you making the change?
Tampons and pads both contain plastic. The packaging may be a giveaway, but consider also the individual wrappers, ultra absorbent synthetics, leak proof base, sticky strip cover and applicator. In short, it’s a lot of plastic. Single use and slow to decompose. The unchallenged malevolent of our throwaway culture, one sanitary pad equates to a shocking four plastic bags. And if you are in any doubt as to the severity of the problem, 200,000 tonnes of this stuff is sent to landfill in the UK per year.
A recent study to explore public awareness of this pandemic of period plastic, discovered that one third of women were uninformed and unaware of the plastic content of their products. This may or may not be surprising.
Ultimately more striking is the fact that two thirds of women do have this information and yet in 2020 the most widely sold tampon was Tampax Tampak (18.3million) with Tampax pearl coming in at second place. Both are products that contain plastic.
Time to rethink
Until recently I counted myself amongst these otherwise well meaning women who illogically turned a blind eye. I have made conscious ethical choices to put the planet first in almost every aspect of my life. And yet till now the die hard habits of my 14 year old self remained unchallenged. Somewhere it had been instilled in me that that these products were essential in the ‘expected’ management and quick clean up of my period. Like evidence at a crime scene. Where did this come from? And why did I give my menstruating self a free planet polluting pass for so long?
The Selling of Shame
One of my fondest memories of my late grandma was her tutting disapproval each time a Tampax advert aired in our living room. Deliberately audible over the uplifting chorus ‘It’s my life!’, it was a glimpse into opinions past on our periods. How dare they discuss Periods? Yes we have come a long way since her time but the idea that the media and manufacturers continue to control our feelings and behaviours around menstruation persists.
This stigma is deeply rooted in both Western and Eastern society, with almost all religions citing a woman to be unclean during her flow. And as my Nana would attest – in recent past, periods were simply not spoken about. That is – until there was money to be made. As Chella Quint , menstruation activist points out, the first sanitary product only came about post war when there was found to be a surplus of bandages. With no war wounds to dress, these were repackaged as pads and sold to women.
A One Way Conversation
Attitudes to menstruation have only filtered into the public domain via advertising. By using a campaign of shame it seems we have been delivered a problem: leaks, smells, mess and sold the products to solve them. At huge personal cost to ourselves and to the planet. Ever questioned why you see fit to hold a tampon on the inside of your sleeve as you get up to go to the bathroom? We have been conditioned to erase our periods because simply put, periods are ‘shameful’.
The idea that menstruating women are somehow unclean is perpetuated by advertisers’ need to sanitise them and the language of ‘hygieine’. Until 2017 clinical blue liquids to prove absorbency have been used in place of anything that is recognisable as actual blood. Organic Cotton Pads and Tampons
If you Google the term ‘keep Clean on your period’, the first entry will take you to Dettol (India) a UK owned antiseptic brand, which encourages you to disinfect your vagina twice daily and clip pubic hair. There is no mention that the vagina is self cleansing and pubic hair is essential in keeping the vagina free from infection. Nor is it acknowledged that it is unsafe to place such chemicals close to the entrance to the womb. (Not even Donald could Trump this kind of falsehood.) The idea that periods need to be managed in a way that makes it ‘socially tolerable’ even at a cost to our own health is still present and worrying.
Blood on our hands
With so much fear and loathing weaved into our relationship with our menstruating bodies is it any wonder women are reluctant to change habits of old and embrace the new? Our sacred reproductive system has been pathologized and disrespected and we have bought into it hook, line and sinker.
Furthermore with the advent of plastic applicators further clinicalising our experience, (heaven forbid we actually touch our vaginas in the process of inserting a tampon) we have been further convinced to disassociate from our bleed. Are we really scared to get blood on our hands?
Ironically if we persist with these habits of old, that is exactly what will unfold. With the climate crisis gathering momentum, change is essential. It’s time to break the silence, unlearn the taboos we have been sold and fearlessly embrace the new alternatives available – products which aim to serve up our periods ‘guilt free’.
Here are my top three suggestions for a guilt free and sustainable Period.
There’s something quite liberating (albeit fleetingly counter intuitive) about pulling on a fresh pair of pants and allowing yourself to bleed freely. I love the WUKA period pant. They are stylish, leakproof and able to be worn for up to 8 hours. I tried these out at yoga, and while I spent the whole time reimagining the fertility dance from Borat 2 , I happily rode out the hour without a hint of a leak. And really so what if my ‘Bird of Paradise’ had been a little more colorful?
When finished, rinse, wash at 40 degrees and rewear. Again an initial investment that will pay off for months if not years to come. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover the pants, made from breathable and sustainable fabrics, remained completely odour free during use.
Wuka pants start at £12 and are available in various sizes and styles.
The Menstrual Cup
By far the most sustainable and cost effective option. This small reusable silicone funnel is inserted into the vagina to collect and hold the equivalent of three tampons worth of blood. It can be worn for up to twelve hours, emptied, washed and used again with zero waste. Lasting up to 10 years this is a serious money and planet saver. A life changer.
The Mooncup is priced at £20.95 with free P&P. Available in different sizes
Organic Cotton Pads and Tampons
If you are still wary of the benefits of the above. Make one small change – replace your disposable pad and tampons with a kinder and biodegradable option. & sisters make products which ooze style and luxury at a much lesser cost to the planet. These are products you will be proud to display on your bathroom ledges. Again happy to report no leakage of fluid or odour. Further proof that our need to perfume our period is toxic tomfoolery.
&Sisters organic cotton pads and tampons from £2.85